Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate Republicans Ignoring the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic In Their Rush Confirm Judge Barrett To The Supreme Court Days Before A Presidential Election Day: “A Travesty for the Senate. A Travesty For The Country.”

October 25, 2020

For Immediate Release

Date: October 25, 2020

CONTACT:  Alex Nguyen (Schumer), press@schumer.senate.gov

Schumer Floor Remarks On Senate Republicans Ignoring The Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic In Their Rush Confirm Judge Barrett To The Supreme Court Days Before A Presidential Election Day: “A Travesty For The Senate. A Travesty For The Country.” 

Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor about Senate Republicans’ rush to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court Justice just days before a presidential election day, which has never before happened in the history of this country. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

I want to start today by talking about some breaking news that may, at first glance, not seem relevant to today’s proceedings but in fact is a perfect illustration of how broken this process is. 

We find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic that the Republican Party has never taken this pandemic seriously enough, and it’s a pandemic that is worsening by the day. According to Dr. Fauci, the nomination ceremony for Judge Barrett was a super-spreader event.

Today, the White House Chief of Staff conceded that White House is “not going to control the pandemic.”

And yet last night, we learned that several aides close to Vice President Pence have tested recently positive for Covid-19. Now, we wish them and their families well. We wish the Vice President and his family continued health.

A normal response, after being close to several people with Covid-19, would be to follow CDC guidelines and quarantine, for everyone’s safety. But this is not the case. In the same breath with which they announced that VP Pence was exposed, the White House said that he would keep on campaigning—comparing campaign work to the work that doctors and nurses and firefighters and police officers do.

It’s a puzzling claim, especially since the Vice President failed at the most important official duty in his portfolio—the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Not only has the White House Coronavirus Task Force failed to keep the American people safe, it has even failed to keep the White House safe.

Even worse, the Vice President reportedly intends to come to this chamber tomorrow to preside over Judge Barrett’s confirmation vote. The Vice President, who has been exposed to five people with COVID-19, will ignore CDC guidelines to be here tomorrow, putting the health of everyone who works in this building at risk.

It sets a terrible, terrible example for the American people. And nothing could be a more apt metaphor for what is going on here. The Republican Party is willing to ignore the pandemic to rush this Supreme Court nomination forward. And the Vice President, after potentially being exposed to COVID, will preside.

Senate Republicans are willing to ignore the need for economic relief. They are willing to ignore the nation’s testing needs. They are willing to ignore election interference. All so they can put someone on the highest court who would take healthcare away from millions of Americans in the middle of a pandemic.

God save us.

Now, only a few hours after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, Leader McConnell announced the Republican majority would move quickly to confirm her replacement. At the time we didn’t know exactly when, but now we do. Republicans are rushing to hold a confirmation vote tomorrow night. Eight days—eight days—before the election. And after more than fifty million Americans have voted for a president—quite possibly, a different president—to pick Justices on their behalf. After more than fifty million Americans have voted for Senators—quite possibly, different Senators than some who are here today—to advise and consent.

Confirming a lifetime appointment this late into a presidential election season is outrageous. It is even more galling, of course, because nearly every Republican in this chamber, led by the Majority Leader, four years ago, refused to even consider the Supreme Court nominee of a Democratic president on the grounds—the “principle”—that we should wait until after the presidential election because the American people deserved a voice in the selection of their next Justice.

My colleagues, there is no escaping this glaring hypocrisy. As I said before: no “tit for tat,” convoluted, distorted version of history will wipe away the stain that will exist forever with this Republican majority, and with this Republican leader. No escaping the hypocrisy.

But oh my, how the Republican leader has almost desperately tried.

Over the past few days and weeks, the Majority Leader has subjected the Senate to a long and tortured defense of this cynical power grab.

The Republican leader claims that the majority’s position all along has been that it’s acceptable to deny Justices in presidential election years when there’s divided government. But here is what Leader McConnell said after Justice Scalia died: “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.”

He didn’t say, the American people should have a voice…but only when there’s a divided government.

He didn’t say, the American people deserve a voice…but only when it serves the political interests of one party, otherwise, we don’t mean it.

No—Republicans all swore this was a “principle,” their word—not a mere incident of who controls the Senate and the presidency. And the transparency of this new excuse does not cover up the hypocrisy, does not change it one bit, and everyone knows it. Everyone.

And by the way, If this were about divided government, the Senior Senator from Florida would not have said that he would “say the same thing if a Republican president were in office."

The Junior Senator from Iowa would not have said: “Precedent set. Precedent set. I’m sure come 2020, you’ll remind me of that.”

Chairman Graham would not have said: “Hold the tape! Use my words against me! You can say Lindsey Graham said the next president, whoever it might be, whoever it might be, not whatever party it was in, should make the nomination.”

So the flimsiness, the transparency, the dishonesty of the excuse that they’ve come up with ex post facto doesn’t work. Doesn’t work.

So no, this has never been about the orientation of the Senate and the presidency. Republicans promised they’d follow their own standard if the situation was reversed. Guess not.
Now, the Republican leader claims that the majority’s actions today are rooted in some convoluted precedent. The truth is, the precedent is clear and simple. The Senate has never—never—confirmed a Supreme Court Justice so close to a presidential election. The Senate has never even confirmed a Justice between July and Election Day in a presidential year. I asked the presiding officer to confirm these two facts. And both were confirmed by the records of the Senate. There is no precedent, none, for what is going on here.

And the Republican leader has claimed that the majority’s actions are justified by all sorts of bad things Democrats did in the past and may hypothetically do in the future. He said that every escalation of “significance” in judicial debates was made by Democrats. Convenient. I guess “significance” is in the eyes of the beholder, because the Republican leader’s history lesson conveniently—and mandatorily to make his case, his false case—left out a whole lot of chapters. Ignored.

He conveniently omitted that Republicans bottled up more the 60 judicial nominees from President Clinton, refusing to given them even a hearing in the 1990s.

He made no reference to the decision by Republican Senators to hold open 14 appellate court seats under President Clinton so that a Republican president could fill them instead—a tactic Republicans would revisit under President Obama, when Republicans used partisan filibusters to block his nominees to the DC circuit.

At the time, the Republican leader and the Senators from Iowa and Utah said that President Obama was—get this—trying to “pack the court.” Amazing! Pack the court? They held up the nominations so President Obama couldn’t have his rightful appointees to the second highest Court in the land. And they kept a number of seats, I believe it was four, vacant for such a long time.

Well, we’ve heard all this before. It seems whenever Republicans need to scare up some votes, they accuse Democrats of trying to pack the courts, even when it’s a Democratic president invoking his constitutional authority to appoint judges, and the Republicans blocking it.

Now, Republicans tried to nullify President Obama’s authority to nominate judges to the circuit court, and then, as soon as Republicans had a majority, they succeeded in nullifying his prerogative to have a Supreme Court nomination considered by the Senate.

And what did Leader McConnell say about it? This remark will go down in infamy. He called it “one of his proudest moments.”

Apparently, the blame game Leader McConnell wants us to play goes all the way back to 1987. That’s the reason we’re so hypocritical. “What happened back in 1987,” says the Republican leader.  It all began with Robert Bork, he says, after Sen. Kennedy gave a three-minute speech that Republicans considered intemperate. Seriously. That is, according to our Republican friends, the original sin, according to the leader, a three-minute speech.

While we’re on the subject of Robert Bork, I’d remind my colleagues that Robert Bork received a hearing and a vote in the Democratic Senate. His nomination was defeated by a bipartisan majority of Republicans and Democrats. Republicans helped defeat Bork, left out conveniently by the Leader’s recantation of history. His nomination was defeated and President Reagan’s eventual replacement—Anthony Kennedy—was confirmed unanimously. For those keeping score, Merrick Garland never even got a hearing.

But because one Democrat gave a speech Republicans didn’t like, the fight was on, according to the Republican leader, because of that three minute speech in 1987, Republicans can steamroll the minority to confirm a Supreme Court Justice in the middle of an election.

Imagine trying to explain to someone: sorry, I have to burn down your house because of something one of your friends said about one of my friends 33 years ago. Yup, burn down the house because of a comment 33 years ago. That’s what they’re doing.

The Republican leader’s speech was schoolyard stuff. Here in the United States Senate, in order to justify an outrageous power grab that some, even some members of his party don’t agree with, the Leader’s argument boils down to: “but you started it.” Any parent with young children would recognize that argument. It’s when you know you’ve done something wrong but you don’t want the blame. That’s exactly what the Leader’s speech sounded like to so many Americans.

Let’s get serious here. This isn’t about the long history of judicial escalation or a 33-year old speech, this is about raw political power. This is about a Senate majority deciding to break faith with the American people and make a mockery—a mockery—of its own “principle” to secure a seat on the Supreme Court.

And let me dispense with one more fiction. The Leader keeps claiming that Supreme Court seats have nothing to do with power or ideology. Judges and justices only “apply the law,” they claim. They only apply “call balls and strikes.” My Republican friends have told us over and over again that if someone is qualified, has good top notch qualifications, they should be confirmed because judges merely apply the law.

Well, if that were true, if Leader McConnell truly believed the only thing that matters about a judicial candidate is his qualifications, then Merrick Garland would be sitting on the Court right now. His qualifications were every bit as good as Amy Coney Barrett’s. Every bit as good. So all of a sudden, we should only judge by qualifications.

I get it. I get it. So if it were true—once again I will repeat it—if many of my Republican friends believed that the only thing that matters is the qualifications of a judicial candidate, Merrick Garland would be Justice Merrick Garland now.  

No one—and I mean no one—said that Judge Garland wasn’t qualified. But Republicans subjected his nomination to an unprecedented partisan blockade.

If qualifications are the only thing that matter, why did President Trump vow to only pick justices who would “terminate” our health care law?

Why did he say that his judicial appointments would “do the right thing” on healthcare, “unlike Justice Roberts?”

Why did President Trump say that if he gets to appoint two or three justices to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade would be overturned “automatically”? 

That’s not qualifications.

President Trump doesn’t have a problem talking about how judicial appointments might rule when he’s trying to win an election – but apparently Democrats are “hysterical” for even questioning how Judge Barrett looks at hugely consequential issues.

I want the American people to know: the far-right is lining up, right now, to get the Supreme Court to review your fundamental rights because they think Judge Barrett might provide a certain outcome. President Trump and Republican Attorneys General are suing to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in a case that will be heard one week after the election.

Three days ago, the President of the United States said, on tape: “I hope that they [the Supreme Court] will end it. It’ll be so good if they end it.”

Republicans in Pennsylvania have just appealed a split decision by the current Supreme Court that prevented an early cutoff to counting ballots. Just one vote on the Court could change that outcome.

The Attorney General of Mississippi, this week, filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to review a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks—an invitation for a new configuration on the Court to revisit Roe v. Wade.

So don’t tell me the issues don’t matter, only qualifications. We’re talking about the lives and freedoms of the American people. The right to affordable health care. To make their own private medical decisions. To join a union, vote without impediments, marry who they love. And Judge Amy Coney Barrett will play a part in deciding whether those rights will be sustained or curtailed for the next generation of Americans.

So I want to be very clear with the American people about what is going on here. The Republican Senate majority, America, is breaking faith with you—doing the exact opposite of what it promised just four years ago—to cement a majority on the Supreme Court that threatens your fundamental rights. Don’t forget it, America. Don’t forget what’s happening here.

Because it is a travesty, a travesty. A travesty for the Senate. A travesty for the country.

And it will be an inerasable stain on this Republican majority forevermore.

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