"I don’t want to cross Cocaine Mitch ... but the Senator most responsible for the fact that Amy Coney Barrett is going to be confirmed tonight... is Harry Reid."

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Video of the Senator’s speech is available here or by clicking the image above. 

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke on the Senate floor this morning about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation and the upcoming fight over the Senate’s filibuster.

Excerpts below.

On Judge Barrett: 

“She is an unparalleled nominee and will be a dazzling originalist on the Supreme Court.  None of the baseless allegations that have been leveled against Judge Barrett have swayed any votes. Democrats didn’t lay a glove on Judge Barrett in her confirmation hearings and I think she ran circles around politicians who want to outsource lawmaking to unelected judges."

On Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s scapegoating of Ranking Member Diane Feinstein: 

"The Minority Leader seems that he’s decided to make Dianne Feinstein a scapegoat for the unforgivable sin of being unwilling to turn more of Judge Barrett’s hearings into another Michael Avenatti clown show. And I think that’s just a painful moment in this institution’s history, and it speaks volumes about how low some people are willing to seek sink in response to outside activists who would like to see bare knuckle politics be the only thing that happens in the Senate."

On repetitive and dishonest talking points about healthcare:  

"I’ve heard now I think four speeches in a row implying that when Judge Barrett becomes Justice Barrett later tonight, that obviously means the end of health care in America. The last speech actually included this phrase, “A vote for Amy Barrett is a vote to end health care.” The speech said “A vote for Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to end health care.” That isn’t just preposterous, it is so destructive of the public good and of public trust... Please have the courage to come back next April, May and June and say you lied to the American people. You were just trying to scare them into voting and say what you were saying was B.S. Whoever writes these outside talking points - it’s really destructive and the Senators know better than to parrot this pap."

On the MVP of the Barrett, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh confirmations:  

"I don’t want to cross Cocaine Mitch, the gentleman from Kentucky, but the truth of the matter is the Senator most responsible for the confirmation proceedings we have happening on the floor today is not from Kentucky. The Senator most responsible for the fact that Amy Coney Barrett’s gonna be confirmed tonight, the Senator most responsible for the confirmations of Neil Gorusch and Brett Kavanaugh, is the former Democratic leader from Nevada, Senator Harry Reid. It was Senator Harry Reid that blew up the filibuster for judicial appointments in November of 2013, and the rest of how we got here is just a footnote on that history."

On the importance of the legislative filibuster: 

”...House and Senate are supposed to be different kinds of bodies. We have different purposes and so my argument to Democrats now or in January is the same as the argument I made to Republicans in January of 2017, and, that is that blowing up the filibuster would be to functionally kill the Senate. It would dramatically change not just this institution, but the structure of governance in our republic. … The House and the Senate are supposed to have different complimentary functions and if we kill the filibuster in the Senate, we will have simple 51-49 votes, radically changing the direction of the country. We would see government swings on a pendulum where big chunks of American life could be re-written every two years with simple 51-49 or 49-51 majority changes and therefore new majority votes. We would become more like a parliamentary European system…"

On then-Senator Obama’s defense of the Senate:  

"I understand that a junior Republican Senator from Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of sway in the Democratic conference, but maybe they would listen to the quote of a different, more influential Senator… ‘If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, then I fear that the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody’s interests, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much, much more.’ …  That quote was from the junior Senator from Illinois in 2005, Senator Barack Obama, speaking passionately to this body about why it was different, why it is different and why we have a stewardship obligation to defend the deliberative structure of the Senate.

Full text of Senator Sasse’s remarks is found below.

Senators have worked through the weekend and the clock is obviously winding down later today and tonight after a final confirmation vote, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is going to become Justice Amy Coney Barrett. And for those of us who’ve been advocating for her - in my case that’s been since the summer of 2017 -  that is welcome news. She is an unparalleled nominee and will be a dazzling originalist on the Supreme Court.  None of the baseless allegations that have been leveled against Judge Barrett have swayed any votes. Democrats didn’t lay a glove on Judge Barrett in her confirmation hearings and I think she ran circles around politicians who want to outsource lawmaking to unelected judges. 

Some folks are upset about that, and even though many of my male colleagues on the Judiciary Committee also complimented the Judiciary Committee Chairman on a very well-run hearing, tragically, the Minority Leader seems that he’s decided to make Dianne Feinstein a scapegoat for the unforgivable sin of being unwilling to turn more of Judge Barrett’s hearings into another Michael Avenatti clown show. And, I think that’s just a painful moment in this institution’s history, and it speaks volumes about how low some people are willing to seek sink in response to outside activists who would like to see bare knuckle politics be the only thing that happens in the Senate. 

Judge Barrett’s opponents know that they don’t have the votes. They know that they don’t actually have public support.

They’ve seen the polling rise steadily week after week after week over the last month as the American public has gotten to know Judge Barrett better and learn more about her, they’re more and more comfortable with her and less and less open to some of the sort of hyperbolic rhetoric that we’ve seen levied leveled against her. 

This is actually my fourth consecutive hour on the floor this morning. I’ve heard a series of speeches and one of the things that’s obvious is that there are a whole bunch of phrases that were written up - I don’t know who wrote them up. I don’t know how this process happens. But, speech after speech after speech uses really similar phrasing to try to alarm and disturb and unsettle the American people and I think this cynicism is just really tragic.

I’ve heard now I think four speeches in a row implying that when Judge Barrett becomes Justice Barrett later tonight, that obviously means the end of health care in America. The last speech actually included this phrase, “A vote for Amy Barrett is a vote to end health care.” The speech said, “A vote for Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to end health care.” That isn’t just preposterous, it is so destructive of the public good and of public trust, and I don’t want this body to continue its decline, but I hope that next April, May, or June when the Supreme Court rules and when Obamacare doesn’t die as no expert thinks this case is actually going to do. There is no court watchers who really believe that the Supreme Court is going to end Obamacare this year. severability is a pretty important legal concept that those of us who serve as public servants for a time should be helping the American people understand. And yet, nobody on the other side of the aisle is talking about severability, even though everybody watching the court case knows that even if the opponents of Obamacare prevail in this case, that severability is what everyone expects will actually happen. And yet we hear again and again and again in this rhetoric just motivated by the cynical desire to get people to vote out of fear and panic in the November elections. 

Nobody really believes this stuff. And so, I hope the Democrats that are making these speeches, staying here all night to say again and again things like, “A vote for Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to end health care” please have the courage to come back next April, May, and June and say you lied to the American people. You were just trying to scare them into voting and say what you were saying was B.S. Whoever writes these outside talking points - it’s really destructive and the Senators know better than to parrot this pap.

So, they are out of arguments, but they’re not out of soundbites. And one of the things that’s true in American life is that with freedom of speech, even if your sound bite is nonsense, you have the right to be wrong and you have the right to say it. So, given that we’re gonna be here all day, it’s all over but the shouting, it seems like we don’t have to play the same speeches on repeat over and over again. We can actually do two things and I think that we should spend a little bit of time reviewing how we got here and a little bit of time talking about where we go next. 

First, we should explicitly name the Senate’s most valuable player and as somebody who is a junior member of this body, I don’t want to cross Cocaine Mitch, the gentleman from Kentucky, but the truth of the matter is the Senator most responsible for the confirmation proceedings we have happening on the floor today is not from Kentucky. 

The Senator most responsible for the fact that Amy Coney Barrett’s gonna be confirmed tonight, the Senator most responsible for the confirmations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, is the former Democratic leader from Nevada, Senator Harry Reid. 

It was Senator Harry Reid that blew up the filibuster for judicial appointments in November of 2013, and the rest of how we got here is just a footnote on that history. 

Leader McConnell walked through some of this history on Friday and Saturday, how at every turn, from Robert Bork to Brett Kavanaugh, many progressive progressives have in an effort to try to secure policy outcomes in the Supreme Court, then escalating the confirmation wars. I won’t repeat all of that history from Friday and Saturday here, but when Harry Reid went nuclear, he set the Senate on a path to this day.

So here we are with more than 200 federal judges confirmed in the last four years. Again, I’ve been on the floor for the last four hours so I’ve heard multiple people lament the pace of judicial confirmations on the floor. Some people love it, some people hate it, but whether you got hate mail or you got love letters, your destination address should be Las Vegas, Nevada.

There is simply no equivalent or comparable event in the confirmation escalation wars since they were created with the borking of Robert Bork in 1987. There’s simply no comparable event with November of 2013 when Harry Reid decided to make this body simply majoritarian on confirmations. 

So, where do we go next? It is no secret that some of my colleagues on the left are itching to blow up the legislative filibuster.

It’s a slightly better kept secret that a whole bunch of Democrats in the Senate think this is a really bad idea. But they’re scared to death of the activist groups that have decided to go after Dianne Feinstein in the last three weeks as a sort of trial run to show what happens to people who would resist trying to turn the Senate into a simple majoritarian body. But, I still want to at least compliment those folks in this body who’ve started to talk openly about their desire to blow up the filibuster for legislative process as well around here.

I think it would be a very destructive thing to do, but I appreciate the people who are at least talking about it explicitly. I’ve been fighting about some of this with my friend Chris Coons. He is now open to blowing up the legislative filibuster, even though he was the leader of the Senate letter in, I think it was January of 2017, in defense of the filibuster.

The position he had then when there was a new administration of a different party is the position that I had then and it’s still the position that I have now and regardless of what party holds power around here in 2021 or 2025 I’m still gonna be defending the Senate as a super majoritarian body that tries to actually have a deliberative process. 

So, I think that my friend Chris is wrong about being open to blowing up the legislative filibuster - but I don’t think he’s wrong because he’s a Democrat. I think that a whole bunch of Republicans were wrong about this issue in January of 2017, and so I fought with them as well.

I got lots of angry calls and texts from Republican members of the House of Representatives in early 2017 for defending the legislative filibuster, because the House and Senate are supposed to be different kinds of bodies. We have different purposes. And so, my argument to Democrats now or in January is the same as the argument I made to Republicans in January of 2017, and that is that blowing up the filibuster would be to functionally kill the Senate. It would dramatically change not just this institution, but the structure of governance in our republic. Because without the filibuster, the Senate becomes just another majoritarian body - and we already have one of those. It’s called the House of Representatives. 

The House and the Senate are supposed to have different complimentary functions and if we kill the filibuster in the Senate, we will have simple 51-49 votes, radically changing the direction of the country. We would see government swings on a pendulum where big chunks of American life could be re-written every two years with simple 51-49 or 49-51 majority changes and therefore new majority votes. We would become more like a parliamentary European system - It’s a system that has some virtues, but we don’t have that system and our Founders didn’t pick that system on purpose. 

In an age of declining trust and increasing cynicism, the answer is surely not more instability. This would deplete -- not replenish our declining reservoirs of public trust, killing the deliberative structure of the Senate would accelerate Congress’s ongoing slow and bipartisan suicide where fewer and fewer decisions are made by the people’s elected Representatives, and more and more decisions would be made by an unelected bureaucracy that the people back home that we represent in Nebraska or New York or Rhode Island or Virginia. The speeches that I’ve been hearing this morning where those folks don’t have any power to hire or fire people that work in the administrative, state and accountability of governance to the people means that we want the elected Representatives to be making most of those decisions, not the unelectable bureaucracy - even though lots of those people are well-meaning public servants, they’re simply not accountable to the public.

Senators like Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, Krysten Sinema would see diminished influence as the people of West Virginia, Montana and Arizona got increasingly sidelined for even more representation of New York and California. 

So, my colleagues apparently want to finish the work that Senator Reid began, but this would be to double down on the division, the cynicism and the partisanship and they would pretend that that is a day that they would never regret. But I think it would be really useful for more of the folks who are thinking now about whether they’re either in favor of ending the legislative filibuster or whether they’re too scared to stand up to the activist groups that are demanding they end the legislative filibuster. It would be useful for a lot more of them to go on the record with the things they say to me in private about their regrets about November of 2013. 

I’ve only been here since January of 2015 and I’ve had either seven or eight different Democrats currently serving in this body tell me how much they regret the vote that they took and Harry Reid’s urging in 2013 to end the filibuster for confirmations to the Judiciary. And I understand that a junior Republican Senator from Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of sway in the Democratic conference, but maybe they would listen to the quote of a different, more influential Senator. The quote is this:

 "If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, then I fear that the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody’s interests, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much, much more."

Again, I want to repeat the quote, “If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their vote, then I fear the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything that does not serve anybody’s interests, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much, much more."

That quote was from the junior Senator from Illinois in 2005, Senator Barack Obama, speaking passionately to this body about why it was different, why it is different and why we have a stewardship obligation to defend the deliberative structure of the Senate. Senator, then President Obama was right then, he is right now, and I fear that he will sadly be right in the future if partisan tribalists decide to blow up the Senate and pack the Supreme Court. 

The debate over Amy Coney Barrett is over, we’ll be voting soon, but in the coming months, the debate for a critical piece of American governance will start, and I beg my colleagues to heed Senator Obama’s advice. Protect America’s structure of three branches of government. You lost this vote, but please don’t burn down this institution again. Again, you lost this vote under the rules that Harry Reid created in 2013. Please don’t burn down this institution.

Thank you, Mr. President.