From the Congressional Record Online through GPO
THE ELECTION AND THE CONSTITUTION
Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, this is the first day in which a new
Senate is assembled in which we ponder traditions of this body. Indeed,
it has been described, as my colleague from Texas mentioned, as the
world's greatest deliberative body. But over the time I have been
familiar with the Senate, it has lost the ability to claim that title,
the “greatest deliberative body.” It is a completely different
institution from the one I first saw in 1976 when I came as an intern
for Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, because at that point we
saw deliberation on the floor about the issues we face. We saw that the
use of the filibuster to obstruct ordinary bills was rarely invoked. We
saw bipartisan cooperation on big issues facing America. But that
dialogue on the floor is largely missing.
One reason I wanted to sit here and listen to my colleagues on both
sides of the aisle speak today was to ponder that tradition in which
people listen to each other and ponder the opportunity to address those
substantial issues that we have before us. My colleague from Texas, the
Republican leader, noted that this past election, the people of America
spoke loud and clear about the direction they want this country to go
in. Well, certainly that is not the case. The majority of American
citizens rejected the policies put forward by President-Elect Trump. By
3 million votes, the citizen election overwhelmingly rejected those
policies. Indeed, had it not been for a strategy of voter suppression
on the Republican side, it would have been far more than 3 million
votes rejecting those policies.
Let us be clear that this strategy of voter suppression is an attack
on the Constitution. Our Constitution was founded on the principle that
we would pursue policies here that support the success of all
Americans. That is where our Constitution starts, with these three
words: “We the People.” That is why the Founders wrote those three
words in supersized font--so when you saw the written Constitution from
across the room, you couldn't read the fine print but you could see the
mission statement: “We the People.” It is why Abraham Lincoln
summarized the genius of our country as being a government of the
people, by the people, and for the people.
Let us be clear. Without voter suppression, those 3 million votes,
the majority that rejected the Trump policies would have been far
larger. Let's remember that if it were not for Russian hacking of the
election, that 3-million vote majority that rejected the Trump policies
would have been larger yet. Let's remember that if it were not for an
out-of-control FBI Director intervening in the final days of the
campaign, the citizen vote rejecting Trump would have been even larger.
By the citizen-vote calculation, Trump lost the debate over the
direction of America. If we consider the votes cast for Members of the
Senate, overwhelmingly those votes rejected the Republican agenda. So
here we are with colleagues who say the American people spoke loud and
clear. If you consider the vision of our country and the citizen vote
for the Presidency and the citizen vote for Members of the Senate, that
loud and clear message is a rejection of the Trump policies.
There is no mandate here to throw millions of people off of their
health care. My colleague from Texas said the American people deserve
health care they can afford. Well, isn't that the challenge, that when
health care has a price tag and there is no ability afforded you, you
get no health care? You get health care for the upper middle class and
health care for the wealthy but not health care for every citizen.
Shouldn't we have a nation in which quality health care is accessible,
is affordable to every single citizen? Twenty million more people have
access to that now than they had 8 years ago. It is an incredible
A woman came up to me at a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, and she
said: Senator, things are so different this year.
I said: What do you mean?
She said: A year ago, before we had the Affordable Care Act, if you
got a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, you were in deep trouble. It is
a complicated, mysterious disease. It is an expensive disease, and if
you had insurance, it likely wasn't going to cover the costs associated
with it because of annual limits or lifetime limits.
She noted that if you didn't have insurance, you wouldn't be able to
get insurance because you would now have a preexisting condition and no
insurer would give you the opportunity to be able to have an affordable
health care plan.
She said: Well, what a different place we are in now because now we
have the peace of mind that our loved ones afflicted with this terrible
disease will be able to get the health care they need.
Isn't that what we should seek--a health care system where people
have peace of mind, where we no longer have thousands of bankruptcies
based on health care costs, bankruptcies that you don't see in other
developed nations that have done a better job of making health care
available to every single citizen?
Let's not turn the clock back to whether health care was only for the
healthy or the wealthy. Let's not turn the clock back to where our
young folks were in a health care desert between the time they left
their parent's policy and before they had a career of their own, before
we said they could stay on their parent's policy to age 26.
Let's not turn the clock back to the point where we didn't make
preventive policies for seniors free, and we found that that ounce of
prevention was worth a pound of cure. We did that in the Affordable
Care Act, and people across the Nation have appreciated that.
It is not just on health care that we see no mandate for the Trump
agenda; we don't see any mandate for the Trump agenda on the
environment. There is a proposal by the President-elect to put an
individual in charge of our environmental policies who has been all
about increasing pollution--increasing fine particle pollution that
causes asthma and other diseases; increasing mercury pollution, which
is a toxic attack on the nervous system and affects the development of
our youngsters. A neurotoxin like mercury is something to be
controlled, not increased.
There was a commentary by my colleague from Texas that we should
expedite the nominees. We know full well that my Republican colleagues
did everything they could to obstruct President Obama's nominees. It
was not so long ago we were here on the floor and we couldn't get a
Department of Labor nominee through this Chamber, or Gina McCarthy with
the Environmental Protection Agency, or various judges slated for the
DC Circuit Court.
I believe the nomination system needs to be reformed. I believe a
President's nominee should get a timely vote. So why don't we consider
the possibility of establishing a rule that gives people a timely vote?
Why not put a 100-day clock on all nominees but the Supreme Court? If
that 100 days ripens and we haven't had a vote on this floor and if a
group of Senators wants a vote, then why not hold that vote, with an
hour of debate, and hold the vote the next day? But to do that, we
would have to have a debate over the rules under which this body
There is no clear path to consider rules, which means we are often
trapped by the precedents of the past that have become unworkable. So
shouldn't we consider a rule change that gives a clear path for rule
changes to be considered on this floor? Isn't that something on which
Senators could come together on a bipartisan basis? And by establishing
such a course of action, we could consider the possibility of having a
100-day clock on nominees so that they would not be trapped forever in
purgatory, not knowing if they are ever going to get a vote. And we
know that so many of President Obama's nominees were trapped in
purgatory. It has had a terrible impact on those who are willing to
consider the possibility of serving the executive branch, not knowing
if they will ever get a vote. Couldn't we improve on this?
Isn't improving the nomination process something that is important in
the balance of powers, the balance between the legislative branches?
Our Constitution created three coequal branches, not a vision in which
the legislative branch or half of a legislative branch can run a
continuous attack on the judiciary, a continuous attack on the
There are other rule changes we ought to consider. We could consider
that for Supreme Court nominees, if they are filibustered, it has to be
a talking filibuster so that it takes time and effort to obstruct,
using the power of the minority, so that there is a conversation
directly held day and night, on through the weekend, on through the
next week and the following week, on whether debate should be closed on
a nominee to the Supreme Court. Currently, we don't have a talking
filibuster for the Supreme Court, so if you simply can't get enough
votes to close debate, this Chamber is silent. It sits silent rather
than being in an engaged dialogue in front of the American people so
the American people can weigh
in on whether the use of the filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee
makes you a hero or makes you a bum.
Should we not consider a strategy by which, on ordinary issues of
policy, the filibuster is restricted to final passage of a bill rather
than having obstruction with each amendment and obstruction with the
motion to proceed to a bill, so that we can spend our time debating
bills rather than debating whether to debate bills? And what goes hand
in hand with moving the filibuster only to final passage is a clear way
for amendments to be offered by Members on both sides of the aisle that
are relevant to a bill, that are germane to a bill. If we have the
ability to clearly debate amendments, we will be closer to being a
deliberative body and therefore maybe even the possibility of becoming
a great deliberative body or even the world's greatest deliberative
body once again. But when we are paralyzed and unable to get bills to
the floor or when they are on the floor but we are unable to propose
amendments, we won't be there. These two things go hand in hand.
These are all ideas I advocated for when I was in the majority. Today
I stand here in the minority arguing for these same fundamental
changes. They will strengthen the success of this body for the majority
and the minority and strengthen our ability to work together to produce
legislation that addresses the big issues facing this Nation.
Let's be clear. There is no mandate for the Trump agenda, no mandate
for dismantling health care for millions of Americans. There is no
mandate for increasing air and water pollution, no mandate for tax
giveaways to the richest Americans, no mandate for increasing the
disparity in compensation between ordinary workers and the best off,
the most powerful, and the most privileged.
We will indeed, as our Democratic leader noted, hold the President-
elect accountable. The President-elect said, “I am going to drain the
swamp,” but he has proposed turning the economy over to Goldman Sachs,
to the banking world, and he has proposed turning over our foreign
policy to Exxon, the fossil fuel world. That is the opposite of
draining the swamp. We will hold the President-elect accountable.
The President-elect said he was going to fight for working people.
Well, proposing a Secretary of Labor who is against working people
getting fair compensation is inconsistent, to say the least, with a
pledge to fight for working people. We will hold the President-elect
There is much work to be done, but if we hold as our North Star the
vision that we are here as a legislative body to fight for the vision
of “we the people,” policies that lift up all Americans, give an
opportunity for every American to thrive, then perhaps we will find a
course in which we can work together in a bipartisan fashion to make
America greater and greater.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.