Now, More than Ever
What someone in the GOP Senate
caucus needs to tell Republicans about the filibuster vote. by Hugh Hewitt
April 26, 2005
A speech I hope a Republican senator from the classes of 2002 or 2004 makes at the next gathering of the GOP Senate caucus:
Leader Frist, for giving me the floor. I realize it isn't usual for members here less than three years to make long speeches, but there are a number of us who have a unique, & I think valuable, perspective on the issue of the president's judicial nominees. Look around the room & you’ll see a lot heads nodding, I think, as I run down these points. Those of us who fought & won races over the 2002 & 2004 cycles, in places as different as Florida & Minnesota, Texas & South Dakota, Missouri & South Carolina, we’ve all been down that familiar road of a two-year campaign. John Thune's actually been down a four year road. But we have all, every one of us, appeared in literally thousands of living rooms & board rooms, hotel lobbies & open air rallies. We’ve been out there asking for the $10 donation & the $2,000 donation. All of us, every one of us, have been helped into office by George W. Bush. We’ve all done interview after interview, have appeared on a thousand radio talk shows & sent a million pieces of mail.
In short, we know
something that a lot of you might not, especially those members gearing up for the 2006 elections. Or at least we know it in a real, first-person way, whereas those of you who haven't been part of the last two cycles only know it in a theoretical way. That something is that the judges really matter. They really, really matter. This is something you have to hear, & hear in a way that maybe you haven't before because you either haven't been out there since the issue arose or because you had a comfortable reelection campaign. Because I don't know all of you very well, please allow me to address you as senator today, but please know I’m saying this as a friend.
Senators, the issue of judges matters more than you can imagine. More than it’s probably ever mattered in the 217 years of our country's political history. So much does it matter, Senators Snowe & Chaffee, & I say this as a friend, that if we refuse or lose this battle, I think you’ll lose your seats. Please understand that I’m not trying to threaten members of the body who’ve been here longer than I have, I’m just trying to tell you what it’s like out there in the states, where our party gathers momentum & ideas & votes & yes, contributions. Nothing except the defense of this country matters more than judges. That's what our party's millions of members believe & that's what is the background for our talks today.
I want to early on in my remarks to thank Sen. Voinovich. Senator, you may not have intended to do so, but with your comments in the Foreign Relations Committee last week, you opened the door. After you said you needed time to think about the Bolton nomination, well, every network couldn't rush an expert out quick enough to praise you for your integrity. Over at CNN, I thought Bill Schneider was going to canonize you. Sen. Chaffee also was on a lot of broadcasts saluting your willingness to rethink your position.
made the same point that it takes courage to change your mind in D.C. I thought
then, & I emphasize now, senators can change their mind on big issues, especially when it’s because you’ve thought long & hard on the subject. I’m hoping that Sens. Chaffee & McCain, who’ve announced their intention to vote with the Democrats on the issue of the filibuster, that they use the opportunity that Sen. Voinovich has given them to rethink their position & rejoin the caucus. I think it’s much more important than saving Sen. Chaffee's seat, though I’m fairly certain he’ll lose it if we lose this vote. It’s more important than
Sen. Snowe's seat, though I think we’ll lose that one as well if we lose this vote. I think we could lose the Senate majority in 2006 if we lose this vote on ending the filibuster. It’s that crucial. It’s that significant. Let me tell you why I think this way.
Like I said, I appeared at thousands of gatherings over the nearly two years of my campaign. Nothing special there. We’ve all done it & we all know it’s necessary. And on top of that the phone calls & the interviews. No complaints, just part of the job. Those of us who’ve been out on the trail in a contested race, sometimes an uphill race, & who’ve succeeded in the past three years, know there are two issues on the minds of Republicans & a lot of independents: Will you support the president & will you get the judges confirmed. It’s that simple. Over & over again. Will you support the president & will you get the judges confirmed?
The folks who sent us here aren't the fancy lobbyists from the Chamber or the agri-business or the oil industry. They’ve never been on K Street, much less officed there. They aren't the big media commentators or the editorialists. They’re ordinary, mainstream Americans, & they don't like what’s going on in this town, & they especially don't like the nonsense over the judges. They know it isn't fair & they resent deeply being told these judges are quote, out of the mainstream, which makes them, ordinary tax-paying, church-and-Rotary-attending Americans, out of the mainstream. They’re hot about this. They want it to end. You know that & I know that.
These people aren’t radicals. They aren't wild-eyed fanatics. They don't want impeachment or censure or anything like that at all. But they do believe that laws should be made by legislatures & Congress, & they believe George Bush has been a good & courageous president. And they think it's fair for people to get up or down votes. And they’re very, very well informed on this subject of judges.They’re watching. They’re waiting for us to do what we promised. They expect us to confirm these judges because it is the right thing to do. They expect us to do it as well because we owe George Bush.
It’s amazing how sophisticated the electorate has become on this issue. Sure, ten years ago, or even five years ago, no one much cared about what happened to judicial nominations unless it was a big showdown over the Supreme Court. That's different now. The courts have been deciding some very big issues, & not just gay marriage & Terri Schiavo. Hardly a day goes by that courts here & there aren't in the headlines. Voters watch & they know this, & they also know that George Bush is supposed to be able to nominate people he likes & that we’re supposed to vote on them.
Remember the round-the-clock debate we had about the judges last year? Huge attention for that & the Leader deserves credit for using that technique to get the filibuster the attention it deserved. We all can remember the mail & the calls. So we went to the people on that issue and got behind the president. And we won. We won big, in fact. Now our people want results. They won’t accept excuses & they won't accept some half-measure called a compromise. They want votes on nominees.
Let me be clear. I don't believe any member of this caucus is obliged to vote for any nominee they don't think should be confirmed. That's a matter for every member to decide. But I do think we owe it to the people who sent us here, to the president, & especially to the Constitution that we end this disfigurement of the filibuster.
Everyone in this room knows this is a new thing. We don't have to explain to the media, we don't have to debate the Democrats' talking points here. When they started filibustering on ideology in 2003, they changed this body's traditions & in a radical way. We never thought they’d take it this far, but they have. And now we have to end it.
If we fail, I think we’ll be understood, whether or not correctly, but inevitably, understood to lack the organization & skill & resolve to deserve the majority we’ve won. And I think the people will take it back. I think many of our colleagues on the ballot will suffer in 2006. Not just those who vote with the Dems on the filibuster, but even leaders of the effort to end the abuse, like Sen. Santorum.
I think Sen. Specter would be the first to tell you how hard Sen. Santorum & the
president worked for him last year, especially in the primary. They believed in the idea of a majority in the Senate & they did what they needed to do to keep that majority, & more importantly, to deserve the majority. Now we have to display whether we deserve the majority & that means ending this abuse of nominees. They deserve an up-or-down vote. I say that now & if we lose the majority & the presidency in the future, I will say it then. It’s the principled thing to do, & it does nothing to dilute our institution's deliberate approach to legislation or blue slips or the committee's power.
It’s simply this: Judicial nominees who reach the floor deserve an up-or-down vote after an extensive debate. After the disfigured filibuster is broken, we can suggest a new, specific rule on how to deal with judicial nominees that assures plenty of time for debate, but we need to negotiate that rule with the assumption being that minorities can’t forever defeat the will of majorities on judicial nominees.
I've gone on at length because I think the stakes are high. I keep thinking about meeting after meeting when a hand would go up, all sorts of people asking the same question month after month: What about the judges? If we get this wrong, we won't have to worry about it for a long, long time, because we’ll be sending many of the people in this room to an early retirement & ourselves back into the minority. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
One final note: I want to be clear. I don't want any surprises or anyone to be misled. I won’t find it possible to support any of my colleagues for reelection if they’re on the other side of this issue. I’ve always been willing in the past to put aside differences on various issues, but on this one, I won't be able to. The folks who sent me here wouldn't stand for it & I couldn't fairly ask them to. It’s that important an issue.
I’m asking all of us to consider how terrible that result will be for everything we need to get done, & to vote accordingly. I hope as a result we have at least 55 votes to support the Chair's ruling & I hope we get to it this week.