VIDEO: Watch Bennet’s speech HERE
Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet spoke on the Senate floor about the damage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has done throughout his career to America’s democratic institutions––from the independence and integrity of the courts to the functioning of the United States Senate. Bennet compared Senator McConnell’s rhetoric promising to restore the Senate with his record of degrading it, drawing parallels to his claims to be a fiscal conservative while voting for at least $17 trillion in total debt in the last 20 years. Bennet also described how the Majority Leader has spent his career working in opposition to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy of an America that was more democratic, more fair, and more free.
In his speech, Bennet said: “As a senator and as a Majority Leader, [Mitch McConnell] dedicated his career to undo the work of Justice Ginsburg and those who have fought beside her for a better America. Pick almost any issue – from the degradation of our courts and our democracy to the sorry state of our government’s fiscal condition, and for decades, you’ll find the Majority Leader’s fingerprints all over the crime scene.”
Bennet continued: “I’m not sure any majority leader in our history has had this low a regard for our democracy, or for our institutions, than the senator. And I would say, that, less regard for the American people as well, because every time he is taking a knife to our institutions, he is in front of the cameras talking about what an institutionalist he is.”
“More than anyone in America -- and I’d say he’s actually proud of this -- he is responsible for exposing our democracy to a deluge of money, special interests, and foreign interference…There’s only one person who gets to decide whether we vote on something around here, and that’s the Majority Leader. I’d like to see which senators would vote against protecting our elections from Russian interference. I’d like to see it...Come out and vote!” Bennet continued.
“[T]he senator from Kentucky has run roughshod over this institution, doing...whatever he can get away with politically. We’re at a point where, what you can get away with here is the only rules that are left. As I said last night in this Senate, words have lost their meaning. And when words lose their meaning, when promises mean nothing, when commitments mean nothing, that’s when institutions fail. And it’s moments like this that I remind my colleagues that this is not the first republic to risk failure, because all of this – the Senate, the Supreme Court, the centuries of rules, written and unwritten, that have guided this republic...We’re not preserving them for us. We’re preserving them for the American people, because, without our institutions, we can’t do what we need to do in this democracy – whether it’s climate change, or health care, or education, or any issue that the American people care about, no matter what side of the political aisle they’re on,” Bennet continued.
Bennet’s remarks as delivered are below:
Last night I had a chance to speak about the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, someone who, as much as anyone in our history, advanced the cause of equality between men and women.
When President Clinton named her to the Supreme Court, she had already transformed American law through her trailblazing work as a professor and litigator. It’s why her nomination sailed through this body with 96 votes -- a reminder of a time, not so very long ago, when the Senate understood its constitutional duty to advise and consent. When a qualified judge would get the vast majority of senators to vote for that person – every single time we did that, we re-established the idea that the judiciary is independent, independent from what hopefully are our temporary insane partisan battles.
After earning that 96 votes, for more than a quarter century on the court, Justice Ginsburg authored rulings that promoted fairness, advanced equality, and secured hard-won rights. They upheld affirmative action and protected a woman’s right to choose. At the same time, she could never accept decisions that nullified our right to vote or otherwise limited our democratic values, even when it was hard for some of her colleagues on the highest court in the land to perceive the systemic racism in our country.
As I said last night, because the young Joan Ruth Bader knew America would be worse off without her -- without her talent -- Justice Ginsburg fought hard to make America more democratic, more fair, and more free.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Majority Leader of this body, who now seeks to ram her replacement through the Senate. As a senator and as a Majority Leader, he dedicated his career to undo the work of Justice Ginsburg and those who have fought beside her for a better America.
Pick almost any issue – from the degradation of our courts and our democracy to the sorry state of our government’s fiscal condition, and for decades, you’ll find the Majority Leader’s fingerprints all over the crime scene.
Let’s start with the courts. That seems an appropriate place to start today. Justice Ginsburg cared deeply about what she called “public respect, public respect for and confidence in the judiciary.” No one in America has done more to destroy that confidence and respect than the senator from Kentucky.
I first came to Washington as Colorado’s senator during President Obama’s first term. The Majority Leader, who was then the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, led the blockade against virtually all of President Obama’s nominees. He filibustered the nominee for Secretary of Defense, who was a Republican. In the history of the country, no nominee to be Secretary of Defense was filibustered.
From George Washington to George W. Bush, senators had used the filibuster against 68 presidential nominees. From Washington to Bush, that entire period, 68 filibusters of presidential nominees. During President Obama’s first five years, Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell, used it against 79 nominees. In five years of a brand new president, they used the filibuster more times than in our history going back to George Washington.
The obstruction was relentless, Madame President, and it finally led Senate Democrats to change the rules in 2013 with a so-called “nuclear option,” allowing us to confirm judicial nominees -- except for the Supreme Court and other executive appointments -- with 51 votes instead of 60 votes. I’m sorry about that vote. I’ve apologized on this floor before, about that vote. It has led us, partly, to where we are today.
After Republicans won a majority in this body, Senator McConnell made his prior obstruction look like a game of bean bag. He wasn’t in the minority anymore, now he was in the majority.
The next low-point came on February 13, 2016. I’ll never forget it. I was speaking at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Colorado when I saw the crawl come on CNN announcing the death of Justice Scalia. It was a presidential election year, and there were 342 days to go before the end of President Obama’s second term, a term made possible by the American people deciding once again to hire him – to give him the power to appoint people to the Supreme Court. Let the people decide.
One hour after Chief Justice Roberts confirmed Scalia’s death, Justice Scalia’s death, Senator McConnell declared: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
That’s not what the Constitution says. When there’s a vacancy, the president shall nominate, the Senate shall advise and consent. Today we have a senate, with this majority, that’s not even interested in advising. As we stand here tonight, they’ve given their consent, without even knowing whom the nominee is going to be.
Hoping cooler heads would prevail, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, someone a Republican Senate had previously confirmed with 76 votes, and whom the former Republican Senator from Utah, my friend, Orrin Hatch, once called a “consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court.
I had known Merrick Garland for a quarter of a century. I worked for him fresh out of law school, when both of us served in the deputy attorney general’s office at the Department of Justice. I have never heard another lawyer -- or anyone, for that matter -- refer to Garland without the highest admiration. He set the standard for excellence. He was a lawyer’s lawyer.
Senate Republicans, led by the Majority Leader, refused to even meet with Judge Garland, let alone give him the courtesy of a hearing -- so the American people could see what an outstanding person he was, how brilliant and fair-minded he was.
The Majority Leader would go on to say about this disgraceful moment in our democracy’s history that one of the proudest moments, I’m quoting now, “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.’”
And we know what happened next. We’re still living in next. For the rest of 2016, the Majority Leader held the seat open – all year – 342 days, no hearings, no meetings, no vote. One of the senators in this body went home, I was proud of them, they went home and they said, you know what, I’m never going to vote for Merrick Garland, but I think it’s wrong for us not to have a vote. We should have a vote, and I should go home and explain why I voted the way I voted -- and have to defend my vote.
Two days later, a Super PAC, run by a clerk, former clerk of Justice Scalia, started to threaten that they would run a primary against him if he didn't change his mind -- and he did.
And so we know what happened. He kept, Majority Leader McConnell, kept the seat open. He helped elect Donald Trump, who ran for office waving around a list of judges that he would appoint to the court. And making Donald Trump, of all people, the first president in American history with the power to fill every judicial vacancy with a simple majority vote. And because Senator McConnell later used the nuclear option to change the rules again without really having any debate here. And as a result, he’s used that power to confirm 217 judges, nearly a quarter of the federal bench are now Trump appointees.
In 2017, Senator McConnell detonated his own nuclear option to lower the required votes for Supreme Court justices from 60 to 51 -- as he warned, in fairness to him, as he warned he would do -- and he installed Neil Gorsuch in what should have been Garland’s seat.
In 2018, he jammed through the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh under his new regime, delivering the confirmation by a margin of two votes – the narrowest margin for a Supreme Court nominee since 1881.
And throughout it all, throughout it all he seated a roster of judges across the federal bench who otherwise could not make the B-team.
The Senate confirmed a judge who opposed a state proclamation honoring an association of professional women because it had dared to talk about ‘glass ceilings’ and ‘pay equity."
The Senate confirmed a lawyer who wrote blog posts peddling conspiracies about Barack Obama and comparing abortion to slavery.
An attorney who suggested judges can ignore judicial precedents they deem “incorrect,” and who justified denying habeas corpus to enemy combatants with the brutal ancient dictum, “In time of war, the laws are silent.”
Then, the Senate confirmed its first ever nominee rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. It had never happened before in American history.
But once was not enough. The Senate went on to approve six more Trump nominees rated “not qualified” by the ABA. You can’t find qualified lawyers? You can’t find a lawyer that can just, not even exceeds, just meets -- these people are unqualified. What qualifies them is many of them are in their 30s and are gonna be on the courts for my lifetime.
And I thought that was all rock bottom.
Then, last Friday, one hour – one hour – after we learned of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, the Majority Leader issued a press release saying, quote, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
The opposite – the opposite – of what he sent out when Justice Scalia died.
When the Majority Leader blocked Judge Garland – when he said, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice” – there were 342 days left in President Obama’s term. 342. There are 119 days left in President Trump’s term. And there are 41 days left before this election.
Here’s what the history really is, not the masquerade that the Majority Leader has been engaging in, with the American people. From the founding of this country until today, we have had nine Supreme Court vacancies arise in the first six months of a presidential election year. Nine vacancies have arisen in the first six months of a presidential election year. The Senate confirmed every single one of them – except Merrick Garland. The Senate has never confirmed a Supreme Court nominee this close to a presidential election. Never, in the history of America.
And now, we’ve given our consent, apparently, before we even know who the nominee is, because of Donald Trump’s magical powers, we’re willing to somehow take it on faith.
But these traditions make no difference to the Majority Leader. Thanks to him, we now live in a world where confirming judges has become one more vicious partisan exercise. Where confirmation votes will now break on party lines for the foreseeable future, and perhaps forever. And where every ruling a justice makes is going to be viewed as, “That’s what we’d expect from an Obama judge.” “That’s what we’d expect from an Trump-appointed judge.”
It is the opposite of the way this worked when I was in law school.
And when the Majority Leader says, I’m just putting it back to the days before we had a filibuster of circuit court judges – because now there is no filibuster when it comes to judges – it’s not accurate. It’s not right. Because in those days, if you were qualified, you’d get 96 votes. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg got. Like Justice Scalia got. I think he got 95 votes. But now we have exported the vicious partisanship out of this chamber, into the highest court of the land.
Senator McConnell has not only damaged the integrity of our courts, something the late Justice Ginsberg cared deeply about, he’s also worked to sabotage her legacy of an America that is more democratic, more fair, and more free.
Over his 36 years in office, the Majority Leader has voted against nearly every piece of legislation that promoted equality and advanced civil rights. Again and again, he’s voted against banning discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation, prosecuting hate crimes, improving equity in the workplace. He even voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
More than anyone in America -- and I’d say he’s actually proud of this -- he is responsible for exposing our democracy to a deluge of money, special interests, and foreign interference.
The Majority Leader has voted against every major campaign finance reform bill that came to this floor. In fact, he led the fight against the bipartisan reform bill written by the late Senator John McCain.
And when he failed to stop it in the Senate, Senator McConnell went to the courts to have it overturned – paving the way years later for the disastrous ruling in Citizens United that has allowed billionaires to flood our political system in the name of free speech, when average working people are being drowned out.
He voted against the bipartisan National Voter Registration Act, which allowed people to register to vote when they get a driver’s license.
Ahead of the 2016 elections, he refused to join President Obama and issue a bipartisan statement to alert the American people to the threat of Russian interference in our elections. He refused to do it, and the American people didn’t know until after the election was over that Vladimir Putin was putting his thumb on the scale.
To this day, he refuses to let us vote on bipartisan bills to protect our elections from foreign interference, or even bills to fully fund our elections so people can vote safely in the middle of a pandemic.
There’s only one person who gets to decide whether we vote on something around here, and that’s the Majority Leader. I’d like to see which senators would vote against protecting our elections from Russian interference. I’d like to see it. But we can’t know because he won’t allow it to come here for a vote.
I’d like to see who in this chamber actually is against universal background checks, something we haven’t been able to take a vote on because the Majority Leader won’t allow a vote.
Come out and vote!
It’s been over 570 days since the House passed the For the People Act – a bill that would ban gerrymandering, expand early voting, create automatic voter registration, and make Election Day a national holiday, among other reforms.
The Majority Leader refuses to bring it to a vote. He called it a “power grab”. That’s the Orwellian language that he uses. The only power grab that is, is a power grab by the American people to try to pry a little bit of power away from the Majority Leader from Kentucky, on behalf of themselves.
I’m not sure any majority leader in our history has had this low a regard for our democracy, or for our institutions, than the senator.
And I would say, that, less regard for the American people as well, because every time he is taking a knife to our institutions, he is in front of the cameras talking about what an institutionalist he is.
When he became Majority Leader, he said his first priority would be to “restore the Senate to the place our Founders, in their wisdom, had intended—not the hollow shell...”
Senator Marsha Blackburn: The senator will suspend. Rule 19, Paragraph 2, provides that no senator in debate shall directly or indirectly by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming of a senator. The senator may proceed.
Thank you Madame Chair. I was interrupted, but let me go back.
When he became Majority Leader, he said the first priority would be to “restore the Senate to the place the Founders, in their wisdom, had intended—not the hollow shell of an institution Harry Reid had created.”
Harry Reid was his predecessor. I think I remember him being on the floor calling him the worst Majority Leader that had ever existed in history. I don’t think he was sanctioned for that.
He promised to “open up the legislative process in a way that allows for more amendments from both sides.” Last year we voted on 26 amendments in the entire year. Last year, we voted on 26 amendments. Only eight of those amendments was passed. I think Senator Paul from Kentucky had four of those amendments.
Quote: “Sometimes it’s gonna mean actually working more often. Sometimes it’s gonna mean working late. But restoring the Senate is the right thing to do.” We’re not working late around here. He said we were gonna work on Fridays. Half the time Harry Reid was Majority Leader, I couldn’t go home until Friday, and since the Majority Leader has been here, I’m home for dinner every Thursday night.
“We need to recommit to a rational, functioning appropriations process.” This year, we haven’t passed a single appropriations bill in the Senate. Last year, we had the longest government shutdown in American history.
“We need to return to regular order,” he said. This is from a Majority Leader who put a bill on the floor to strip health care from 16 million Americans that we didn’t even see until a few hours before the vote. There are so many of these things that we don’t even remember them anymore.
He claims to be an institutionalist, but he has brought this institution low – the lowest it’s been. It’s no different than his claim to be a fiscal conservative. I’ve heard him say over and over again that our debt and deficits are “the single biggest threat to America’s future.” He called it, “the transcendent issue of our era.” He said, “Until we fix that problem” – the deficit – “we can’t fix America.” He said Americans are “tired of the spending, debt, and government takeovers” and complained that our debt “makes us look a lot like Greece.”
He claims to be a fiscal hawk – he’s done it his entire career – but the truth is, there is not an American living or dead who has put more debt on the balance sheet of this country than Mitch McConnell – $17 trillion – and that’s just over the last 20 years.
And for what? To invest in education, to build our roads and bridges, to do something about mental health in the country, or water infrastructure? For what? To cut taxes for the richest people in the country, borrow it all from China, which is the opposite of what he said he was doing. The opposite of what he promised.
He said the cuts would pay for themselves -- they never have.
He said they’d benefit the middle class -- two-thirds went to the top 20%, at a time when we’ve got the worst income inequality that we’ve had since 1928. When we’ve had an economy that for 50 years, 90% of the American people haven’t seen a pay raise.
And that means, in the first 25 years of this century, we’re on track to spend $6.8 trillion on tax cuts for the richest 20% of Americans.
It is exactly the same thing as if a mayor in any one of our communities or states, said to their neighbors, and to their city council, and to the press – I’m gonna borrow more money than we’ve ever borrowed before. And he’d say, well, that worries me a little bit. Well, what are you going to spend it on? Are you going to spend it on our roads? No. Our bridges? No. Our water system? No. Mental health, COVID, our public health infrastructure? I’m gonna take that money that I’m borrowing from the Chinese, and I’m gonna give it to the two richest neighborhoods in town.
That is the Majority Leader’s tax policy, and that’s what it’s been since 2001.
This speech isn’t about spending, but while I have the microphone, here’s what we could’ve done for $6.8 trillion:
We could have created universal preschool for every child in America -- these are not either or, by the way, that’s how big a number $6.8 trillion is -- we could have created universal preschool for every child in America.
We could have invested in the 70% of Americans who don’t graduate from college so they earn a living wage, when they graduate from high school, not just the minimum wage.
We could have made public college affordable for every middle-class American.
Given every teacher in America a 50% raise and pay them like the professionals that they are.
We could have cut child poverty by 40% in this country.
We could have protected Social Security so that we know it’ll be there for our children and our grandchildren.
We could have rebuilt America’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and airports.
Laid high-speed broadband to every community.
Lowered the cost of prescription drugs.
Covered everyone with high-quality health care by creating a public option.
Passed Paid Family and Medical Leave.
Invested in science and public health so we would be more prepared for the global pandemic.
We might’ve even paid down some of our debt, and actually acted fiscally responsible.
In other words, we could have changed the destiny of America.
We could have added to the legacy of Justice Ginsberg by making this country more democratic, more fair, and more free.
We still can. But we can’t do it as long as the Majority Leader is continuing to pursue these policies.
We have to choose leaders in the Senate who will build this country better than we found it, not leave it in tatters for our children and grandchildren, to pick through the rubble.
Instead of making the Senate work on behalf of the American people, the senate has been run -- the senator from Kentucky has run roughshod over this institution, doing whatever he can, whatever he can get away with politically.
We’re at a point where, what you can get away with here is the only rules that are left. As I said last night in this Senate, words have lost their meaning. And when words lose their meaning, when promises mean nothing, when commitments mean nothing, that’s when institutions fail.
And it’s moments like this that I remind my colleagues that this is not the first republic to risk failure, because all of this – the Senate, the Supreme Court, the centuries of rules, written and unwritten, that have guided this republic – we’re not preserving them for us.
We’re not preserving them for us. We’re preserving them for the American people, because, without our institutions, we can’t do what we need to do in this democracy – whether it’s climate change, or health care, or education, or any issue that the American people care about, no matter what side of the political aisle they’re on.
Justice Ginsburg appreciated this. She described her philosophy this way: “I am an originalist in the sense of what these great men meant – a Constitution that would govern through the ages. At least, they hoped that it would provide an instrument of government that would endure.”
That is what is at stake in this election -- whether we will accept this sorry chapter in our history as the new normal, or insist on a government that can actually govern and is focused on the needs and desires of the American people.
I hope deeply that we’re gonna put this era behind us, and I’m not for going back to some old era, but to build a democracy that’s worthy of the 21st century. Worthy of the example Ruth Bader Ginsburg set. Worthy of the expectations our kids and grandkids reasonably have of us, and that most of us have for America in this world.
That is the choice in this election. And to borrow a phrase from the Majority Leader, the American people should have a voice in the outcome. And it’s my hope that, in 41 days, they will.Madame Chair, I thank you for your patience. I thank the staff for their patience, and I yield the floor.