The American People Deserve the Government They Elected

‘The comprehensive campaign by Senate Democrats to delay Senate consideration of presidential nominations is now more than two years old. As I have explained in recent days, it is time for this sorry chapter to end. It’s time to return this body to a more normal and reasonable process for fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities, no matter which party controls the White House.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding a resolution to reduce the amount of post-cloture debate time required for sub-cabinet level nominees and lower court judges:

“The comprehensive campaign by Senate Democrats to delay Senate consideration of presidential nominations is now more than two years old. As I have explained in recent days, it is time for this sorry chapter to end. It’s time to return this body to a more normal and reasonable process for fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities, no matter which party controls the White House. The Senate had to hold 128 cloture votes on nominations during President Trump’s first two years. One-hundred and twenty eight. More than five times as many as in the equivalent periods for the previous six presidents combined.

“42 of those 128 were for positions that had never, in the past, required cloture votes. Like the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, or the General Counsel at the Department of Agriculture, or the Ambassador to Luxembourg. Not a thoughtful investigation of a few highly controversial nominees. Not principled opposition in some rare circumstances. These are part and parcel of Senate tradition. But grinding, across-the-board, systematic obstruction -- under threat of filibuster -- sparing not even individuals whom literally zero senators opposed in the end. This is new. And it needs to stop.

“Well-qualified civil servants. Academic and business experts. Exemplary jurists with broad bipartisan support. All subjected to weeks if not months and months of pointless delays. And then pointless cloture votes, tying up floor time. Not because there is real debate happening. Not because there’s real due diligence requiring months of delay. Just because my colleagues across the aisle have chosen to endlessly re-litigate the 2016 election rather than actually participate in governing. Just because they wish our president were not our president.

“The Department of the Interior has waited 631 days since President Trump first nominated an Assistant Secretary for policy, management, and budget. 631 days. Her nomination was voice-voted out of committee. But after months of inaction, it had to be sent back at the end of the last Congress. The Millennium Challenge Corporation has waited 450 days since its CEO was nominated.

“More than a year since the president nominated a Chair for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Not front-page news. Just normal positions the president has been trying to fill. In each case, and in hundreds of others, the Democrats have made sure those chairs stayed empty for too long. This systematic obstruction is unfair to our duly-elected president. And more importantly, it is disrespectful to the American people, who deserve the government they elected. The American people deserve the government they elected.

“This problem goes deeper than today. We are talking about the future of this institution and the future functioning of our constitutional government. This practice is laying the foundations of a dangerous new norm. We cannot set the new precedent that Senate minorities will systematically keep an administration under-staffed, down to the least controversial nominees, any time they wish somebody else had won the election. So we need to act. We need to act so that, in its third year, the current administration can finally get more of its team in place. We need to act to repair the institutional legacy we are leaving and restore a functional nominations process for future administrations of both parties.

“For most of the storied history of this institution, the traditions that govern the Senate have combined two distinct things. On legislation, an ironclad commitment to robust minority rights, including extensive debate and the filibuster. And on nominations, a reasonable process for considering the individuals the president sends us. Let me be absolutely clear. The legislative filibuster is central to the nature of the Senate. It has always been, and must always be, the distinctive quality of this institution.

“In the United States Senate, dissenting voices retain considerable power to shape the debate on legislation. Pivotal moments have hinged on the strong convictions of a minority that has urged caution or insisted on amendment. I know many of my colleagues on both sides share my view that this part of the Senate’s DNA must never be put in jeopardy or sacrificed to serve either side’s momentary partisan whims. In fact, during the last Congress, 61 of our colleagues from both sides of the aisle signed an open letter making their commitment to the legislative filibuster abundantly clear.

“So I know many of us were disturbed to read this week in the Washington Post that far-left activists are pushing, quote, ‘an abolish-the-filibuster litmus test on the presidential campaign trail, and quite a few of the 2020 aspirants have at least signaled a willingness to consider it.’ I’m glad that many of my Democratic colleagues are on the record opposing such a short-sighted disaster championed by the far left. The commitment of both sides to preserving the legislative filibuster is not just an historical matter. It’s also very practical. Neither party is particularly keen to see the other side enact its entire, full-bore legislative wish list the next time they attain 51 votes.

“Republicans don’t want Democrats to enact an entire left-wing agenda with 51 votes, and Democrats certainly don’t want Republicans to enact every last part of our conservative agenda with a mere 51 votes. What they’re not thinking about is when the shoe is on the other foot, and Republicans have the simple majority of 51 and there is no legislative filibuster. What would happen? They’re only thinking about how it might enable them but not thinking ahead to the next time the shoe is on the other foot. In fact, I remember in 2013 I said, when our colleagues on the other side insisted on going to a simple 51 votes on the executive calendar, you might not like what happens when the shoe is on the other fellas' foot. So, I would say to my friends on the far left, think about what might happen the next time the people you’re not for have 51 votes.   We all know that both parties will possess future 51-vote majorities somewhere down the line. It will happen. The Senate’s long traditions on legislation therefore, need to remain in place.  What we’re discussing this week is restoring a different tradition concerning nominations. The tradition here is entirely different.

“There is no long tradition – none – of what amount to mass filibusters of personnel for administrations. There is no tradition of systematic, grinding delays under threats of filibuster that extend even to nominees who nobody opposes. All of this is new. Until my Democratic colleagues started us down this road in 2003. This all began in the first Administration of George W. Bush. Routine, systematic filibusters of nominations before that were a foreign thing. It just wasn’t done.

“So we need to recover Senate tradition. So the effort we’ll make later today is about getting us back to what the tradition in the Senate was for a couple hundred years down to the Bush 43 first term. And yesterday, we had a chance to do just that, working across the aisle and through the same process that we overwhelmingly agreed to for President Obama. But -- stop me if you’ve heard this one before -- Senate Democrats chose obstruction instead. Never mind that in 2013, a bipartisan majority including many Republicans passed a similar measure that immediately benefitted the Obama Administration.

“In other words, a significant number of Republicans joined up with all the Democrats in 2013 to do something almost exactly like what we will be proposing later today, to help President Obama. He had just gotten re-elected, do you think we were happy about that? We weren’t, but we thought the executive calendar should be expedited for these kinds of nominations that we’re discussing today. Never mind that the same Democrats who opposed this measure yesterday have whispered in the ear of many of us – including the occupant of the chair -- they would be more than happy to support this provided it didn’t take effect until 2021. Well that certainly concedes the reasonableness of what we’re going to achieve later today.

“So, because bringing the Senate’s nominations process permanently back to Earth right now would also help this Republican administration, they weren’t interested in doing the right thing. The thing they did in 2013. The thing they’re whispering in our ears now. Oh no, can’t do it now because we don’t like who’s in the White House.  So look, Republicans remain committed to reform. Just look at the nomination currently before us. A textbook case study on the shameful state of the current process. Jeffrey Kessler of Virginia was first nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary of Commerce in November of 2017. It took seven months before Democrats on the Finance Committee allowed his nomination to be considered, but when it was, Mr. Kessler was reported out by a unanimous vote. Nobody opposed him on the Finance Committee.

“And the familiar story continues. Another six months of inaction. The nomination was sent back to the White House at the end of the last Congress. So, the process started all over again. This time, he got a voice vote in the Finance Committee. Everybody just said ‘aye.’  And yet, here on the floor, inexplicably, it has still required a cloture motion to break through the obstruction and get this unobjectionable nominee – that no one voted against -- a vote. So later today, it appears at long last that we will be able to take action -- To finally advance Mr. Kessler’s nomination. To do the responsible thing. To begin to unwind this partisan paralysis -- for the good of the Senate, and for the future of the constitutional order each of us has pledged to protect.”

Related Issues: Senate Democrats, Nominations, Judicial Nominations