VIDEO: Udall Speaks Against Gorsuch Supreme Court Nomination on Senate Floor
Says if GOP goes ‘nuclear,’ they should also adopt ‘McConnell Rule’ so President Trump can’t nominate justice in fourth year; Udall: ‘This wasn’t President Trump’s seat to fill'
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall spoke on the Senate floor against the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court. Discussing his opposition to Gorsuch and his intention to vote against cloture, Udall cited the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding Goruch’s nomination, including Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction of Judge Merrick Garland, the investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia, and Gorsuch’s lack of independence and compassion for individuals who come before the court.
“This wasn’t President Trump’s seat to fill,” Udall said. "Judge Garland was denied a hearing. Many of my Republican colleagues wouldn’t even give him the courtesy of a meeting. He never got a vote. This was a disgrace. And it is an injustice that needs to be remedied before I could ever consider voting for Judge Gorsuch.”
Udall said that “if the Republican majority is dead set on changing the rules to jam this nominee through, after all that has happened,” then Senate Republicans should also put in place the “McConnell rule,” which would bind President Trump to the same restrictions that were put on President Obama. Republicans made the unprecedented decision to deny President Obama the opportunity to fill this vacant Supreme Court seat in the fourth year of his presidential term.
"If the Majority Leader believed President Obama should only have three years to appoint justices, certainly the same standard must apply to President Trump,” Udall said. "If the Republican majority thought their policy in 2016 was good for President Obama, it should be good for President Trump. What’s fair is fair.”
Udall said that he will offer a standing order to adopt the “McConnell Rule” if Senate Republicans unilaterally change Senate rules.
Below are Udall’s full remarks as prepared for delivery.
“Mr. President, we have many important responsibilities as U.S. Senators. We often have to make difficult decisions but deciding to vote against cloture and confirmation for Judge Gorsuch has been very tough.
"Since coming to the Senate, I’ve been a strong advocate for reforming our rules to curb abuses, to ensure the body can function, and to make sure the president’s nominees are treated fairly.
"I believe our constitutional duty to provide advice and consent is one of the most important of all of our responsibilities as senators. Especially for nominees to our nation’s highest court and I believe withholding consent should be rare. Rare, but not unheard of. Sometimes circumstances will be so extraordinary that filibustering a Supreme Court nominee is necessary.
"The Gang of 14 knew this. That was the group of 14 senators who forged a compromise in 2005. Three of them are still in the Senate. Their agreement allowed some controversial judicial nominees to be confirmed to appellate courts. But it also allowed the Senate to avoid triggering the nuclear option and it addressed how they would weigh future nominations.
"The Gang of 14 agreed to the following: 'Nominees should be filibustered only under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.'
"I think that is a good standard. To only filibuster a nominee only under 'extraordinary circumstances.'
“Unfortunately, in my evaluation of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, I can’t think of more extraordinary circumstances.
"First, this wasn’t President Trump’s seat to fill. Justice Scalia died on February 13, 2016. President Obama still had nearly one year in office at that point and so President Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty. He nominated one of the most qualified nominees in the history of the Court, Judge Merrick Garland.
"Shortly before Judge Garland was nominated, Senator Hatch – one of our most respected Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee – said Judge Garland would be a great pick. Senator Hatch went on to say that President Obama 'probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election.'
"But President Obama did do it. Judge Garland is not just a fine jurist, he is an exceptional human being. Judge Garland’s lifelong commitment to public service is well known. He deserved far better treatment by the Senate majority.
"Judge Garland was denied a hearing. Many of my Republican colleagues wouldn’t even give him the courtesy of a meeting. He never got a vote. This was a disgrace and it is an injustice that needs to be remedied before I could ever consider voting for Judge Gorsuch.
"President Trump could fix this. He could make a commitment to nominate Judge Garland to the next vacant seat on the Court. It would be the right thing to do.
"I have been very open that I believe the Senate has become dysfunctional but what the Majority did last year was unprecedented. Things went from bad to rock bottom. Being 'Senatorial' used to mean something. The Republican Majority has shattered that tradition – for purely partisan reasons.
"In fact, the Majority Leader has publicly stated—and I quote in full—'One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, 'You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.' That is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the Senate provide advice and consent.
"And now, in 2017, Senator McConnell has 'guaranteed' Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation, even before he had his hearing. For him, the outcome has been a forgone conclusion.
"So we see there is no advice and consent now either, just the exercise of power to block a nominee from another party.
"But President Trump could help heal that deeply partisan wound inflicted by his party. There is still time for both sides to come together and work out an agreement – put bipartisanship and fairness first and put aside the bitter partisan fighting that has divided Congress and our nation.
“Mr. President, there’s also a pragmatic reason for President Trump to appoint Judge Garland to the next seat.
"President Trump needs to ask himself: does he want to be subject to the McConnell precedent? Is he willing to accept that he only gets to appoint justices for three years? If a Supreme Court vacancy occurs in 2020, does President Trump understand that it is not his vacancy to fill? That’s the absurd standard that Leader McConnell has established.
"If the Republican majority is dead set on changing the rules to jam this nominee through—after all that has happened—then we need to talk about this. Perhaps the best thing to do, in order to ensure the President understands the gravity of Republicans’ obstruction of his predecessor, is to go ahead and put the McConnell rule in place for President Trump.
"Let’s establish in our rules that President Trump only gets three years to appoint justices. We could do this with a simple standing order. If the Majority Leader believed President Obama should only have three years to appoint justices, certainly the same standard must apply to President Trump.
"If the Republican majority thought their policy in 2016 was good for President Obama, it should be good for President Trump. What’s fair is fair. I have a standing order drafted that would do that. I hope an agreement can be reached to rectify the injustice that was done to Judge Garland and I hope that Republicans will decide against using the nuclear option.
"But if that doesn’t happen, I will call on the Senate to adopt this standing order so that President Trump is bound by the same restrictions as President Obama. If we are going to change the rules tomorrow, then let’s get the Republican Majority on the record. Are they prepared to hold President Trump to the same unjust standard as President Obama? We can find out.
“Mr. President, I would ask unanimous consent to include the text of my standing order in the Record at the end of my remarks.
"Unfortunately, Judge Garland’s unacceptable treatment isn’t the only concern that guides my decision to vote against Judge Gorsuch. Like many things with the Trump administration, there is no shortage of extraordinary circumstances.
"Perhaps the most serious is the cloud of suspicion over his presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. presidential election and that it interfered to help candidate Trump.
"There are unexplained ties between the President, his campaign staff, his associates – and Russian officials. People close to the President had meetings and telephone calls with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition. And, most critically, that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating whether the President and his associates coordinated – or conspired – with the Russian government to interfere with the presidential election, an investigation that began last July, and is likely to continue for months, perhaps years.
"If the President, or his close advisors, worked with Russia to help him win the U.S. election, do we really want to let him appoint a justice to the Supreme Court? Someone who could be on the Court for 30 years or more?
"There is no reason to rush this nomination. Remember, Republicans had no problem letting Judge Garland’s appointment languish 293 days. And President Obama wasn’t under investigation.
"Judge Gorsuch was nominated just 64 days ago. If Republicans had given treated Judge Garland’s nomination with the same expediency, he would have been confirmed last May when President Obama still had eight months in office.
"The unacceptable treatment of Judge Garland and the investigation into Russia’s influence on the election are reasons enough to vote against Judge Gorsuch.
"But there’s one more critical issue; the nominee himself. I have met with Judge Gorsuch, I followed the hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I carefully studied his record, and based on all of this information, I can't support his confirmation.
"The Supreme Court changes people’s lives. Its decisions stand for generations. It is essential that justices understand not only how these issues impact our democracy, but how they affect people’s lives. And that they consider them free of ideology.
"Our meeting and the Senate hearings were Judge Gorsuch’s opportunity to convince me that he will be an independent mind on the Court. He failed to answer questions that are critical for me -- his position on the rights of working mothers, whether women can choose their own health care decisions, LGBTQ rights, and dark money in our elections, to name a few.
"But what I found most troubling is he failed to convince me that he would be an independent voice on the Court.
"In just the last couple of months, the President has taken constitutionally questionable actions affecting Muslim immigrants and freedom of speech and religion. The FBI is investigating his campaign, and he faces scrutiny about whether his company is benefiting from his office. All of these issues could well come before the Supreme Court. It’s more important now than ever before that we have neutral clear-minded justices sitting on the bench.
"After carefully considering all of these issues, I cannot support Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation. It was not an easy decision, but I believe it is the right one for our country.”
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