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Barrasso: Don’t Change the Rules to Break the Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) discussed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to change the rules of the Senate to limit minority rights and end extended debate on important issues.

Excerpts of his remarks:

“I come to the floor today to talk about the advice and consent duties of the United States Senate.

“As you know, our Constitution gives the Senate the responsibility to advise the President on high-level executive positions and judgeships.

“The Senate is also asked to consent on those appointments—to ensure that only those who are worthy of the public’s trust hold positions of such great power.

“The confirmation process is a way to protect the American people from nominees, who simply aren’t up to the job—or to the times that we’re in as a country.

“It’s also an important opportunity for the Senate to exercise oversight over the agencies and the policies of an Administration—and to do this on behalf of the American people.

“Let me repeat that. It’s about exercising oversight on behalf of the American people.

“That’s one of the most important roles that we play as Senators.

“That’s one of the reasons that our nation’s founding fathers intentionally made the pace of the Senate deliberate.

“They wanted to make sure, wanted to make sure, that there was free debate on important subjects—so that we could give appropriate consideration to policies, to laws, and to nominations.

“The father of our Constitution, James Madison, explained the Senate’s role was ‘first to protect the people against their rulers.’

“That was the point of this body.

“That’s why, over its long history, the Senate has adopted rules that provide strong protections for political minorities.

“Well, lately some in the majority have decided that the American people shouldn’t ask so many questions—and that the minority shouldn’t have so many rights.

“Here’s a little perspective on the conversation that we’re having today.

“Over the last six years, Majority Leader Reid has taken an unprecedented stand against the rights of the minority in this body.

“He’s done it through procedural tactics like filling the amendment tree on bills, and bypassing committees using something called Rule 14 of the Senate rules.

“Those techniques may make it easier for the Majority Leader to get what he wants, but they shut many Senators out of legislating, and they shut out the Americans that we represent – Democrats as well as Republicans.

“At the beginning of the last Congress, and again at the start of this Congress, there was an attempt to use the so-called nuclear option – and to use it to radically change the rules of the Senate and to strip the rights of the minority.

“Back in 2011, Majority Leader Reid made a commitment not to use the nuclear option.That’s what he said on the floor.

“He said: ‘I agree that the proper way to change Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules,’ and he added, he said  ‘I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next Congress to change the Senate rules other than through the regular order.’ 

“He said ‘this Congress or the next Congress’—so that includes the Congress that we’re in right now, today.

“Well, it didn’t stop some of the members of his caucus from trying to force the nuclear option again earlier this year.

“I was one of a bipartisan group of Senators, eight of us, worked together, negotiated I thought reasonable and responsible changes to Senate procedures.

“Our goal was to avoid the rush to take drastic steps that would damage this body and our country forever.  It was a fair agreement. 

“It was also an agreement that we were told would rule out the use of the nuclear option.

“So Republicans agreed to support two new standing orders, and two new standing rules of the Senate.

“Those changes got overwhelmingly supported by Republicans, as well as Democrats in this body.

“In return, the Majority Leader again gave his word that he would not try to break the rules in order to change the rules.

“Here’s what he said just a few months ago, right here on the Senate floor. He said, ‘Any other resolutions related to Senate procedure would be subject to a regular order process.’

“He even added that this included considerations by the Rules Committee.

“There was no equivocating in the statement by the Democratic Leader.

“There were no ifs, there were no ands, there were no buts. This was January 24th of this year.

“So, here we are again—less than five months later—and we’re having the same argument all over again.

“Some Senate Democrats want to use the nuclear option – to break the rules to change the rules – and do away with the right to extended debate on nominations.

“This would be an unprecedented power grab by the majority. It would gut the advice and consent function of the Senate. It would trample the rights of the minority rights.

“It would deprive millions of Americans of their right, their right, to have their voices heard through their representatives here in Washington.

“The nuclear option would irreparably change this institution.

“Now, Republicans have raised principled objections to a select few of the President’s nominees.

“In other cases, such as the D.C. Circuit Court, we simply want to apply the standard that the Democrats had set—that the Court’s workload doesn’t justify the addition of three more judges.

“The President claims his nominees have been treated unfairly.

“Well, even the ‘Washington Post’ fact checker said what the President’s comments were, were untrue.

The other day, the Post fact checker gave the President not just one, but two Pinocchio’s for his claims about Republican delays on his judicial nominees.

“The White House and the Majority Leader don’t want to hear it.

“They want the Senate to rubber-stamp the President’s nominees.

“The Democrats aren’t happy with the rulings by the D.C. Circuit Court, and they want to avoid any more inconvenient questions about the Obama Administration.

“Democrats claim they want to change the rules just to make things move more quickly – but that’s no excuse.

“Remember when the Majority Leader threatened this same drastic step a couple of years ago.

“Well, one of the Democrats who stood up to oppose the current Majority Leader, oppose him at that time, was former Senator Chris Dodd.

“In his farewell speech in this body, in late 2010, this is what Senator Dodd had to say, he said: ‘I can understand the temptation to change the rules that make the Senate so unique,’ he said ‘and, simultaneously, so frustrating.’ He also said that, ‘But whether such a temptation is motivated by a noble desire to speed up the legislative process, or by pure political expedience,’ he said, ‘I believe such changes would be unwise.’

“That was a Democratic Senator with 30 years of service in the Senate.

“The reality is that the pace of the Senate can be deliberate.

“Extended debate and questioning of nominees is a vital tool to help ensure that the men and women who run our government are up to the job, and are held accountable.

“Under the system some in the Majority want to impose, there will be less opportunity for political minorities to question nominees.

“There will be less government transparency. The faith of the American people in their government will get smaller and smaller.

“I believe it would be a terrible mistake for Democrats to pursue the nuclear option—and an irresponsible abuse of power.

“From the beginning, the American political system has functioned on majority rule, but with strong minority rights.

“Democracy is not winner-take-all.

“Senator Reid gave his word.  We negotiated in good faith earlier this year.

“We reached a bipartisan agreement to avoid the nuclear option.

“Using the nuclear option on nominations now would unfairly disregard that agreement. 

“If Democrats break the rules to change the rules, political minorities—and all Americans—will lose.”