McConnell Defends Free Speech in Address to Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference

‘I believe the time is now to fight for freedom of speech, to defend it for future generations. I believe the time is now to remind every American of its value, to shine a light on the threats facing it, and to underline the consequences for everyone if we fail…Our First Amendment freedoms are key to who we are in this country. They are precious. They face threats. Every future generation is counting on us to stand up and defend them.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered remarks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference today. The following are Senator McConnell’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“It’s great to see everyone again.  What a difference a year makes.  When I spoke to you last year, it was about the things we were working to get done under a president of a different political party.  I’m proud of what we accomplished then, but I’m even more excited about what we can achieve now.  We’re working hard to repeal and replace Obamacare.  We’re moving forward on tax reform.  We recently secured important new resources to protect the border and begin rebuilding the military, we just passed important new accountability measures to help veterans, and we’ll soon pass important new sanctions on Iran and Russia.

“We’ve also started turning the page on eight years of failed Obama economic policies. Over the last few months, Republicans have embarked on what The Washington Post calls ‘the most ambitious regulatory rollback since Reagan.’ We’ve successfully overturned a number of Obama Administration regulations that, combined with key administrative actions, are estimated to result in tens of billions in regulatory cost-savings and tens of millions of hours’ worth of paperwork reductions.  It’s a welcome change after eight years of regulatory onslaught. It’s a better direction after eight years of an Obama economy that failed to reach its potential. It’s a new day for millions of Americans who deserved better.

“Of course, regulations don’t just have an impact on the economy. The now-overturned Obama-era regulations threatened everything from Americans’ retirement savings to the education of our kids. One even tried to force states to fund Planned Parenthood whether they liked it or not. Thanks to the action we took, states now have more freedom to fund women’s health in the way that works best for their communities — not Planned Parenthood’s Washington lobbyists.  Democrats weren’t too happy about that.  They haven’t been happy about much these days.  They’ve got a rabid left-wing base that still just cannot get over the results of the election, and it continues to push them in all sorts of wild directions.  Remember when Democrats used to complain about ‘obstruction’?  Doesn’t seem that long ago. That’s because it wasn’t.

“These days, though, Democrats are bowing to the Far Left’s demands for complete and total opposition. They’re doing everything they can to tie the Senate in knots. They’re forcing procedural hurdles on just about everything. They’re even gumming up the works for noncontroversial nominees — for no reason other than to delay for its own sake.  It’s blind obstruction.  I doubt it’s going to let up anytime soon.  But neither are we. 

“We didn’t give up when Democrats launched more filibusters against this president’s Cabinet than any in history. We worked hard, and we ultimately got the Cabinet confirmed.  We didn’t give up when Democrats waged the first partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court Justice in American history either. No, we certainly did not. That’s why Neil Gorsuch is sitting on the Supreme Court today!  I told you last year that I was not going to allow Obama to airdrop in another Supreme Court justice on his way out the door.  I meant what I said.

“Justice Antonin Scalia was a towering figure on the court. His passing was a great loss to our country. It also came as Americans were in the midst of a contentious presidential election process. So, in keeping with the Biden Rule, I said that the next president would fill the vacancy — regardless of party. The criticism was immediate and relentless. Many advised giving up. Nearly everyone thought the next president would be Hillary Clinton.  But we didn’t waver — and neither did you.

“When the election produced a different result, President Trump put forward a truly outstanding nominee. Sterling resume, impeccable credentials, impossible to oppose on the merits. Not that any of it mattered to the Left.  Before Gorsuch was even nominated, Democrats plotted to hold the seat open indefinitely. Chuck Schumer promised to fight whoever was chosen ‘tooth-and-nail.’ Democratic Senators worked overtime to paint the nominee as some ‘extremist’ before the ink even dried on his nomination. They also tried to invent special hurdles for him to surmount.  But we pressed on — and you made your voices heard.

“In his hearings, Gorsuch proved to be thoughtful, even-tempered, and full of integrity. Across the nation, Gorsuch’s impressive credentials and record won him support from Americans across the political spectrum. When Democrats chose to ignore all this and launch the first successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee in American history, we overcame their attack.  We stood firm — and so did you.  Together, we accomplished something significant for our country.  Together, we secured Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court!  Still sounds good to say, doesn’t it?  Thanks again to everyone who offered their support.  We couldn’t have done it without you.  Of course, it wasn’t easy. Things aren’t likely to get easier from here either.                                                             

“The Left’s total opposition to Neil Gorsuch shows just how determined it is to oppose any Supreme Court nominee of a Republican president. No matter the nominee’s credentials or temperament. No matter the cost to our country.  The Left is on war footing for just about everything these days.  That includes the lower courts.  So we have to be ready.  Just this week, the president announced a slate of federal judicial nominees. It’s an impressive group. We intend to give each a fair hearing and a vote, just as we did with the stellar Sixth Circuit nominee we confirmed last month, Kentucky’s own Judge Amul Thapar.  I hope the president will continue to send us more qualified nominees.  I hope we can continue to count on your support too.  Because this battle is going to be tough and there’s a lot at stake.  The courts are critically important when it comes to protecting our fundamental constitutional rights, like the Second Amendment.

“The First Amendment too.  I don’t have to tell you how important the First Amendment is.  It’s critical to the functioning of our democracy. It’s the foundation of the actions you take as a political activist. It’s what allows every American to have their voices heard, no matter what they believe.  And yet, it now seems under threat.  We’ve all seen the explosion of threats to free speech in recent months. We’ve all witnessed the growing trend of intolerance, even violence, from the Left.  Much has been made of what’s occurring on college campuses, and it is worrying.  But let’s not allow ourselves to believe that this problem is simply isolated to college campuses. Nor should we think the underlying threat is a new one. The actors and the tactics may be different, but the goal — to shut up those the Left disagrees with — is something I’ve been fighting for years.

“We remember the multiple government attempts to suppress speech during the Obama years.  Perhaps you experienced it firsthand. Perhaps you know someone who did.  There was, of course, the Obama Administration’s IRS targeting scandal that went after hundreds of different conservative groups. There were other efforts across the government, from the SEC to the FCC.  These efforts weren’t identical but they had similar goals: Shut up or scare off the stage those with the audacity to think differently. The Obama Administration, of course, left office earlier this year.  But as we now see clearly, just because the Left no longer controls the levers of federal power does not mean it has given up its hostility to views different from its own.  In some ways the threat seems to have grown even more dangerous, the tactics even more extreme. 

“I’ve always believed that if you can’t convince people of the wisdom of your cause then it’s time to come up with better arguments. But too many on the Left seem to have concluded that they can’t win on the merits, so they’re resorting to bullying — even violence — instead.  The consequences of this should worry everyone.  Americans should not have to face harassment or incur crippling expenses defending against a government that doesn’t like what they stand for.  Americans should not have to live in fear because they supported the quote-unquote ‘wrong’ candidate or donated to the quote-unquote ‘wrong’ cause.  American’s should not be shouted down or disinvited simply for having a different view, and they should not live in the shadow of violence for speaking up.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. These rights do not exist to protect what’s popular, they exist precisely to protect what isn’t, and the moment we allow ourselves to believe that some people stand outside the protections of the First Amendment we’re all in trouble.  This is a fact that many on the Left seem to be forgetting.  So, let me say this.  There are a lot of problems facing us in the modern world: foreign adversaries to confront, domestic challenges to solve.  Despite everything that’s before us though, I have faith that — working together — we can eventually overcome what faces us.

“But what happens when we lose the ability to debate our differences openly?  What happens when we can no longer talk to those with whom we disagree?  How can we hope to move forward on anything at all?  That’s why growing threats to free speech represent such a fundamental challenge to the future of our country.  We have to do something, but what can we do?  I wish I could tell you that the solution here were as simple as a piece of legislation.  But the power of our constitutional freedoms lies with an empowered citizenry.

“‘Freedom,’ as Reagan famously put it, ‘is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.’  I believe the time is now to fight for freedom of speech, to defend it for future generations.  I believe the time is now to remind every American of its value, to shine a light on the threats facing it, and to underline the consequences for everyone if we fail.

“Thankfully, I have a public platform to do just that.  Starting next week, I intend to start a dialogue on the Senate floor with a series of speeches in defense of the First Amendment. This conversation will focus on both the contemporary and historical importance of free speech, it will outline the threats it faces, and it will encourage Americans to rally in its defense.  I hope others join me in this effort.  I hope you will too.  Because if we lose our ability to speak, and associate, and believe freely, then what do we have left?  Our First Amendment freedoms are key to who we are in this country. They are precious. They face threats. Every future generation is counting on us to stand up and defend them.  So let us rise to meet the moment.”

Related Issues: First Amendment