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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 26, 2005

Schumer: White House Tries To Reduce Checks And Balances, Encourages Triggering Of Nuclear Option In Senate

Rove Told the Senate Republicans, There Should Be No Compromise
Schumer Calls On Republicans to ‘Stand Tall, Stand Firm, Don't Change the Rules In The Middle Of the Game And Protect the Sacred Checks and Balances’
Floor Statement by Senator Schumer on White House Intervention in Favor of Changing Senate Rules delivered this morning at 10am:

I rise under morning business to discuss some recent events that occurred overnight. Most importantly, there is a story in today's USA Today based on a direct interview that Karl Rove has -- quote -- "rejected a compromise with Senate democrats Monday on long-stalled nominations for the federal judiciary and strongly defended President Bush's choice of John Bolton.”

I'm going to talk about the first matter. Mr. President, it is disconcerting and surprising to see an aide to the president -- an important aide -- tell the Senate how to conduct itself. The Senate has conducted itself by its own rules for decades and centuries. Those rules, by the design of the founding fathers, written into the constitution, talk about the Senate as being a preserve of minority rights. The founding fathers called it the cooling saucer.

It is clear, if you read "The Federalist Papers” and look at the history of this republic, that when a Senate minority of 45 rejects 10 out of 215 judges and supports 205 out of 215, that that is the very way the founding fathers wanted the Senate to behave. After all, one of the very earliest nominations of President Washington -- John Rutledge -- was rejected by the Senate for the Supreme Court. Rejected by the Senate. And in that Senate, where I believe it was eight founding fathers -- the people who wrote the constitution - rejecting the president's choice.

We have in a certain sense people way out of the mainstream, way over, a small group telling the Republican Party in the Senate and telling the President that they must have all the judges, including the most extreme, because after all, it was only the most extreme that we rejected. judges who believe, for instance, that the New Deal was a socialist revolution and should be undone. Judges who believe that zoning laws are unconstitutional. Judges who believe the purpose of a man -- of a woman should be to be subjugated to a man. Judges who believe that slavery was God’s gift to white people.

These are some of the judges that we've rejected, not based on any one particular issue. People say, well, this is all code for abortion. It's not. I have voted for, I believe it is about 190 of the judges, the overwhelming majority don't agree with me on abortion. But believe that they met the ultimate test that they would interpret the law, not make law. And thus, even though they had strongly held beliefs on their own that they would be a good judge. The ten we rejected failed that test.

They feel so passionately that they have to impose their views. One of them, Priscilla Owen of Texas, was criticized repeatedly by conservative members of her own court -- the Texas Supreme Court -- for placing her interpretation of law ahead of the standard interpretation, the interpretation that everybody accepted. And so we were proud to do our constitutional duty and reject these judges, judges we were not consulted with, judges who were way out of the mainstream. And now because of the demands of a few way over, way out there, it seems that the Majority leader is pushing the so-called nuclear option.

But the problem is that a large number of -- a good number of people on the other side really don't want to do the nuclear option. They know that it would change the rules in the middle of the game. You don't change the rules in the middle of the game just because you can't get your way on every single judge. Our constitution, our system of laws is too hallowed, is too important to do that. These wavering Republican senators know that the Senate has been the repository of checks and balances.

And that's why we haven't done the nuclear option yet. I have to say, I wish the Majority Leader would not be moving it. He should stand up as senator for the rights of the Senate. He should stand up as an American for the rights of the American people. But that is not happening.

But yesterday they had a call the heavy guns in. Karl Rove, a member of the executive branch, told the Senate there should be -- told the Senate Republicans, there should be no compromise. It's quite natural, by the way, that the White House wouldn't want a Senate with checks and balances. This is not simply true of Republican presidents.

It's true of all presidents, whether they be Democrat or Republican. They want to just have their way. They regard the legislature sort of, and particularly the Senate, as sort of a pesky obstacle to getting their way. But the wisdom of our Republic has shown that when the Senate does slow things down, when the Senate does invoke checks and balances, that the republic is better off. But now we have Karl Rove telling the Senate how they ought to act, how we ought to act to change a tradition of 200 years. Senator Reid has said publicly that the President told him that the white house would stay out of this.

It's clearly not the case. The White House is not staying out of this. And they are trying to aggrandize executive power. The American people, though, aren't buying it.

There's this story today in The Washington Post that shows -- quote -- "by a 2-1 ratio" -- that's pretty stunning, more than the filibuster amount, "the public rejected easing the Senate rules in a way that would make it harder for Democratic senators to prevent final action on Bush's nominees. Even many Republicans were hesitant to abandon current Senate confirmation procedures. Nearly half opposed any rule changes - joining eight of ten Democrats and seven of ten political independents."

The American public may not follow us, Mr. President, minute to minute, day to day on what we do on this floor, but they've got a pretty good nose to smell what's going on. And what they smell is a whiff of extremism, a whiff of I can't get my way, so I change the rules in the middle of the game. A whiff of not simply a fight at the moment over a particular judge, but rather, a desire not to live with the traditions of this body and this Republic, which involves compromise and mediation.

Honestly, Mr. President, when I recommended to our caucus early on that we filibuster a few of the judges and then later that we prevent and stand up to the nuclear option, no matter what it took, I thought we would lose politically. I thought the argument, well, have 51 votes on everything would prevail. But the American people's wisdom is large, deep, and hard to fool. And the American people have said they understand what's going on. When the republicans were in charge, they didn't allow judges to come out. We're not in charge now, and the filibuster is a way of mitigating the president's desire to put whomever he wants on the bench. And that the filibuster is appropriate.

So I don't believe some on the other side say, well the public's with the democrats because they've gotten their message out ahead of us. Please, the public is with the Democrats in this case not because they're democratic and not because they may agree with the stand of each of the judges or disagree with the stand on each of the judges we have rejected – although I expect that would be the case if they knew. The public is with us because they understand fundamentally the checks and balances that are so important in this republic. And that because a president gets 51.5% of the vote, he doesn't always have to get his way, particularly when it comes to choosing the third unelected, only unelected branch of government.

So, Mr. Rove can order Senators not to compromise. I hope and pray that the senators will not take example – not take direction from the White House on something where the white house's interests, whatever party the president might be, are different than the senators and, frankly, different than the republic's. And I believe they won't. The wisdom of the American people is strong. I let my colleagues know if they should try to invoke the nuclear option and it you can – and it succeeds, we will have no choice but tone force the Senate rules and try to bring up issues that matter to the American people.

We will bring up: the high cost of energy and gasoline, health care, education. We don't usually do that because of comity in the Senate. After all the other party is the majority party. But if they're not respecting the rights of the majority as – the rights of the minority, then as a majority they don't deserve that same deference. And so what we will do is not shut down the Senate, not - not show up. We will rather use the remaining rules at our disposal to bring up issues that the America people care about. Again, my plea to my colleagues on the other side. I know many of them have doubts about this nuclear option but are under tremendous pressure. Resist the entreaties of the executive branch, in this case, in the per son fiction of Mr. Rove. Stand tall, stand firm, don't change the rules in the middle of the game and protect the sacred checks and balances that is at the core of the republic by rejecting this trampling on the rules, the so call nuclear option.

….. With that, Mr. President, I yield…

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