April 03, 2019

Wyden Floor Statement on McConnell’s Nuclear Option Push

M. President, the Republican Leader is reportedly on the verge of “going nuclear” to speed through the confirmation of more right-wing nominees. He says Democrats are guilty of extreme, unprecedented obstruction. And so he claims his hand has been forced, and that’s why he needs to force this change to Senate rules.

Here in the real world, however, the facts tell a different story. So today I want to lay out a few key points as to why this is the wrong way to go.

When you look at the numbers, you see the Republican Leader’s argument is a fantasy. Let’s look at judges, and let’s compare the Trump administration to the Obama administration.

The Obama administration started with 53 judicial vacancies. The Trump administration started with 112. That increase didn’t occur because a whole lot of judges qualified for Social Security and quit sometime in 2016. It’s because Republicans blocked nominees for years at a time, and they kept those seats open. Senate Republicans even blocked their own judicial selections during the previous administration.

Only 22 judicial nominees were confirmed in the final two years of the Obama presidency -- the fewest in a Congress since Harry Truman was president. In 2015 and 2016, the Judiciary Committee considered only five circuit court nominees. It considered that many in December 2017 alone.

There were nearly twice as many circuit court judges confirmed in the first two years of the Trump administration as there were in President Obama’s entire first term. Nominees are moving nearly twice as quickly under this president.

Republicans even blew up the century-old bipartisan practice of seeking input from senators on judicial nominees from their home states. It’s based on using what are known as “blue slips” to consent to a hearing and markup of the nominations. Let’s recall, it’s a tradition Republicans fought to protect when a Democrat was president and they were in the Senate minority. Under this president, they threw the blue slip tradition out.

Republicans are also moving nominees in huge batches and at paces that prevent a serious debate on their qualifications. A few months ago the Judiciary Committee held a markup and voted out 46 nominees -- including 44 judicial nominees. That had never been done before. It’s a real head-scratcher how that meets any reasonable standard of advice and consent.

The way my colleagues on the other side talk about this issue, you’d think Democrats delayed every nomination for as long as possible. That’s not remotely true.

And setting judges aside, what about executive branch nominees? The president and his advisors will tell you right out in the open -- they don’t want to nominate anybody! They’ve chosen to leave those positions vacant! That’s not Democratic obstruction at all.

I’m the Ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. Our committee has zero nominees ready for a committee vote. It’s not because anybody is blocking them. It’s because the Trump administration seems uninterested in putting nominees forward. Our committee has done its job.

So colleagues, you cannot look at the record on nominees over the last two years -- particularly on judges -- and conclude that Democrats have broken the Senate. It’s just not true -- and I believe my colleagues on the other side know it.

When they want to go nuclear and change the rules, they tell horror stories about Democratic obstruction. But it’s a totally different story when they prefer to tout their record on nominations.

Let’s hear from Republicans -- from the president on down.

Here’s the president himself, tweeting in late 2017: “Judges at a record clip! Our courts are rapidly changing…”

Again, the president at a rally last year: “We have the best judges. We put on a tremendous amount of great federal district court judges. We’ll be setting records. We are setting records. Appeals court judges. A Supreme Court judge — fantastic.” 

The vice president in March 2018: “the president ... set a record for the most court of appeal judges confirmed in the first year of an administration in American history.”

Leader McConnell in 2018 spoke about all the confirmed judges, “including a record number of circuit court judges for a president's first year.”

More recently, he said, “We confirmed every circuit judge. We’ve now done 29 circuit judges. That’s a record for this quick in any administration in history.”

After November’s elections, when Democrats won control of the House, Leader McConnell said, “I think we’ll have probably more time for nominations in the next Congress than we’ve had in this one, because the areas of legislative agreement will be more limited between a Democratic House and a Republican Senate … I don’t think we’ll have any trouble finding time to do nominations.”

He said, “We intend to keep confirming as many as we possibly can for as long as we’re in a position to do it.”

So M. President, my colleagues on the other side can’t have it both ways.

I’ll close on this. I will not apologize for opposing nominees who are unqualified, corrupt, or way outside the mainstream.

I opposed the nomination of Ryan Bounds to the Ninth Circuit because he concealed hateful writings from the bipartisan selection committee that vetted his candidacy.

I opposed Neomi Rao because she also had put extreme views in writing, and those views are closely mirrored in the work she’s done as a Trump appointee attacking protections for women’s health, for sexual assault victims, and for vulnerable communities across the country.

I opposed the nomination of Thomas Farr because he ruthlessly attacked the voting rights of people of color.

I opposed the nomination of Tom Price to lead HHS because he was as corrupt as they come, and he was laser-focused on taking away people’s health care.

I opposed the nomination of Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury Secretary, because I believe a history of profiting off the financial suffering of millions of Americans ought to be disqualifying for that job.

The list goes on. Multiple members of the Trump cabinet have resigned under an ethical cloud. The rule change the Republican Leader is pushing will rush through even more unqualified and corrupt nominees at the sub-cabinet level.

Here’s the bottom line. All the doomsday talk about Democratic obstruction forcing the Republican Leader’s hand is totally out of touch with reality. The Trump administration will find more support among Democrats when they pick better nominees. That’s the truth.

Instead, the nuclear option Leader McConnell is set to trigger this week is a strategy to go in the opposite direction. It’ll make it easier to rush unqualified, corrupt and extreme Trump nominees through the Senate before anybody notices. I’m going to oppose this change, and I urge more of my colleagues on the other side to do the same.