Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor today with a detailed accounting of the problem in getting President Barack Obama’s nominees appointed. Although Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Republicans would co-operate except in “extraordinary circumstances,” delays and filibusters have been the norm, Reid says.
Reid is reportedly considering a change to Senate rules that may lower the threshold of votes required for business, including confirming presidential nominations. It’s speech could be read as justification for that move.
Here are the senator’s remarks, reprinted in full:
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding putting an end to gridlock in Washington. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Last month, the Republican Leader spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of keeping one’s word. I agree Senators should keep their word. A deal is a deal. And as long as each party to an agreement holds up his end of the bargain, Senators should stick to their word.
But an agreement is a two way street. If one party fails to uphold his end, the agreement is null and void.
The Republican leader wants you to believe that I have broken my word. But he neglects to recall his own commitments and his own words. Remember, an agreement is a two way street.
So let’s take a closer look at what the Republican Leader committed to do. Let’s look at the agreement we entered into together on the floor of the United States Senate.
In a colloquy at the beginning of this Congress, on January 24, 2013, I committed not to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate except through the regular order. During that colloquy, Senator McConnell also made a commitment. Senator McConnell committed to end constant Republican obstruction and return the Senate to a time when nominations were processed more efficiently.
This is what he said: “On the subject of nominations, Senate Republicans will continue to work with the majority to process nominations, consistent with the norms and traditions of the Senate.”
And I replied: “The two leaders will continue to work together to schedule votes on nominees in a timely manner by unanimous consent, except in extraordinary circumstances.” The Republican leader agreed. He agreed to allow nominations to proceed in a timely manner except in extraordinary circumstances.
Remember, an agreement is a two way street.
The Republican Leader also pledged that, quote, “this Congress should be more bipartisan than the last Congress.” He promised to, quote, “work with the majority to process nominations.” He committed that, quote, “the two leaders will continue to work together to schedule votes on nominees in a timely manner by unanimous consent, except in extraordinary circumstances.”
Those were his words. Those were his commitments. Those were his promises. By any objective standard, he has broken them.
Let’s look at the record. Exactly three weeks after Senator McConnell committed to process nominees consistent with the norms and traditions of the Senate, he led Republicans in an unprecedented filibuster of a highly qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense. Nothing could be a starker violation of a commitment to return to the norms and traditions of the Senate than launching the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense.
What’s more, Republicans obstructed the nominee because of completely unrelated issues, and despite the fact that the nominee, Chuck Hagel, was a war hero and a former Republican Senator. Republicans were busy catering to the Tea Party by trying to inflate the Benghazi non-scandal, which is completely unrelated to Secretary Hagel.
Secretary Hagel’s nomination was pending in the Senate for 34 days — a record for the Secretary of Defense. The average wait time for Secretary of Defense has been 11 days.
Confirmation of Cabinet secretaries used to be free from obstruction. But under President Obama, Cabinet nominees have faced unprecedented obstruction and significant delays in assuming their positions.
Not a single cabinet secretary nominee was filibustered in President [Jimmy] Carter’s administration. Not a single cabinet secretary nominee was filibustered in President George H.W. Bush’s administration. Only one cabinet secretary was filibustered in President [Ronald] Reagan’s administration. And only one cabinet secretary was filibustered in President George W. Bush‘s administration. But already in President Obama’s administration, 4 cabinet secretaries have been filibustered, and more filibusters are likely. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
Republicans were willing to risk national security for the sake of politics when considering the Hagel nomination. And they were willing to risk it again when considering the nomination of John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. They filibustered the nomination of a man charged with leading one of this nation’s most vital national security agencies. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
In fact, Republican obstruction has affected nearly every single one of President Obama’s nominees. This obstruction has continued at every level and through creative new methods. Even before President Obama’s nominations reach the Senate floor, Senate Republicans bog them down with unreasonable demands that are designed to be unattainable.
Tom Perez, the President’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, received more than 200 written questions for the Record. Jack Lew, the President’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, was asked more than 700 questions before he was confirmed. Gina McCarthy, the President’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, was asked more than 1,100 questions in writing. It used to be common for nominees to be asked a handful of questions in writing, if that.
My colleague, the Minority Leader, wants to claim credit for letting some nominees proceed. But the fact that he seeks credit for approving some nominees only highlights the extent of the problem. Confirming nominees should be the norm, not the exception. The President deserves to have his or her team in place.
One look at the Senate’s Executive Calendar shows that, fundamentally, nothing has changed since Senator McConnell and I entered into our supposed agreement. There are currently 15 executive branch nominees ready to be confirmed by the Senate that have been waiting more than 260 days – nearly nine months – for confirmation. At this point in President George W. Bush’s second term, the Senate had confirmed three times as many executive nominees as it has for President Obama.
By the Fourth of July of President [Bill] Clinton’s second term, the Senate had confirmed 80 of his executive nominees. And by the Fourth of July of President Bush’s second term, the Senate had confirmed 118 of his executive nominees. But by the Fourth of July of this year, the Senate has confirmed only 34 of President Obama’s executive nominees – 34.
Through June 2013, I have been forced to file cloture on 25 Obama executive nominees. By comparison, cloture was filed on only 15 executive nominations during the entire eight years George W. Bush was president.
These procedural blockades are as obvious as they are unprecedented. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
This leads me to wonder, what exactly does Senator McConnell consider an extraordinary circumstance? Is it an extraordinary circumstance when Republicans merely dislike an otherwise qualified nominee? Is it an extraordinary circumstance when Republicans simply dislike the agency that nominee will lead? Is it an extraordinary circumstance when Republicans dislike the very laws a nominee will be bound to uphold?
It is a disturbing trend when Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even when they have no objection to the qualifications of the nominee. Instead, they are blocking qualified nominees to circumvent the legislative process, force wholesale changes to laws or restructure entire executive branch departments. They are blocking qualified nominees because they refuse to accept the law of the land.
A perfect example is the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mr. Cordray was nominated by the President in July of 2011 — more than 23 months ago. There is no doubt about Mr. Corday’s ability to do the job. Indeed, he has won high praise from both Republicans and Democrats. He has a stellar track record. If Mr. Cordray received a fair, up-or-down vote, he would be confirmed immediately.
But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues to operate without a leader, because Republicans want to roll back a law that protects consumers from the greed of big Wall Street banks. Republicans refuse to confirm Richard Cordray’s nomination because they refuse to accept the law of the land. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
The same type of blatant obstruction was applied to the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Ms. McCarthy was nominated 129 days ago – more than four months ago. And although she has a proven track record of public service that will help her bring environmentalists and business groups together to tackle the serious environmental challenges facing our nation her nomination lingers. Why? Republicans fundamentally oppose the mission of the agency she will lead: to keep the air we breathe and the water we drink safe from dangerous pollution. Once again, they refuse to accept the law of the land. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
Republicans also made clear from the start they would never confirm Donald Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency tasked with implementing landmark health care reform. This health care law is already saving senior citizens money on checkups and prescription. And because of health care reform, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to sick children, impose lifetime caps on care or discriminate against those with preexisting conditions. Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, insurance companies can no longer put profits ahead of people.
But because Republicans oppose the health care law, they have done everything in their power to derail the law’s implementation – including denying the CMS a leader. And despite Dr. Berwick’s stellar credentials, Republicans defamed him and destroyed his chances for confirmation because they refused to accept the law of the land. They refused to confirm Dr. Berwick, so in 2010 President Obama was forced to recess appoint him. Dr. Berwick’s term ended a year and a half later. And he was never confirmed by the Senate to lead CMS, although his nomination was pending for 593 days – more than as year and a half. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
The same type of politically motivated obstruction has hobbled the National Labor Relations Board. From January 2008 to March 2010, the National Labor Relations Board operated with just two members. Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote on the President’s nominees. In June 2010, the Supreme Court invalidated much of the NLRB’s work during this period, finding that three members were necessary for a quorum at the agency. Then, when President Obama recess appointed a bipartisan group of three members to the board, an appeals court ruled that those appointments were also unconstitutional. The case will soon go to the Supreme Court. [Editor's note: Those recess appointments were made during a time when the Senate was conducting brief, pro forma sessions daily so as not to be considered "in recess," so as to block a recess appointment.]
In the meantime, the term of one of the three remaining NLRB members expires next month. And soon the board will once again be unable to function. Of course, Republicans consider that a victory. In 2011, the senior Senator from South Carolina, Lindsay Graham, said, quote, “the NLRB as inoperable could be considered progress.”
Because Republicans refuse to accept the law of the land, they have denied the NLRB the ability to safeguard workers’ rights and monitor unions. Workers who have been illegally terminated from their jobs will have no appeal. The results of contested union elections could be thrown out. And labor abuses and unfair employment practices would go unchallenged. Yet the Republican Leader says there is no problem here. The status quo is fine.
The Constitution gives the President the right and the power to choose his team. And it grants the Senate the right to advise and consent. But consistent and unprecedented obstruction by the Republican Caucus has turned “advise and consent” into “deny and obstruct.”
Republicans’ obstruction has denied President Obama the ability to choose his team. Whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, we should all be able to agree that Presidents deserve the team members they want. And their nominees should be subject to simple up-or-down votes.
No president can safeguard America’s national and economic security to the best of his or her ability without their chosen team in place. It would be like asking Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson to field a winning team with only half his roster.
Davey Johnson was the starting second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles when they won four American League pennants and two World Series championships. He’s a two-time Manager of the Year, who led the Mets to the 1986 World Series. And last year he took the Nationals to the franchise’s first division title since 1981.
The Major League Baseball season begins in April. Now, imagine Mike Rizzo, the National’s general manager, called up Davey Johnson and said, “I know Adam LaRoche is a swell first baseman, a Golden Glover and a classic power hitter. But you can’t play him until June.”
Then Rizzo called up Davey Johnson and said, “Sure, Ryan Zimmerman is a great third baseman. He won the Silver Slugger Award. He’s an All-Star and Golden Glover. But you can’t play him until after the All-Star Break. And don’t bother with the bullpen; you can’t use any of your relievers until August.”
That is ridiculous, but that’s exactly what Republicans are saying to President Obama. The gridlock Republicans have created is not only bad for President Obama and bad for the Senate; it’s bad for this country.
Upon examination of this record of obstruction, delay and filibuster, it could hardly be said that Senator McConnell, to use his words, “work[ed] together to follow the regular order… and [used his] procedural options with discretion.” It could hardly be said Senator McConnell “work[ed] with the majority to process nominations.” It could hardly be said that Senator McConnell, “schedule[ed] votes on nominees in a timely manner… except in extraordinary circumstances.” But it could be said that Senator McConnell broke his word. That could certainly be said.
The Republican Leader has failed to live up to his commitments. He has failed to do what he said he would: move nominations by regular order except in extraordinary circumstances. And I refuse to unilaterally surrender my right to respond to this breach of faith.
If Senator McConnell wants to continue to defend the status quo of gridlock in Washington, that is his right. If Senator McConnell wants to continue to believe there is no problem in the United States Senate, that is his choice. But the American people are fed up the gridlock, fed up with the obstruction and fed up with these politics as usual. They want Washington to work for American families once again. I try every day to be on their side. And I will wait not wait another month, another year, another Congress to take action.