Schumer Floor Remarks On The Enormous Stakes Of The Supreme Court Vacancy For Health Care And The Fundamental Rights Of Americans And Republican Hypocrisy In Moving Forward With A Supreme Court Nominee In A Presidential Election Year

September 21, 2020

Washington, D.C.— Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today took to the Senate floor to lay out the enormous consequences this Supreme Court vacancy could have for the health care and fundamental rights of the American people. Senator Schumer said that Republicans’ praise of Justice Ginsburg is empty if they seek to undermine her last wish and legacy. Leader Schumer also spoke regarding the audacity of Republicans’ obvious violation of their own stated principles by deciding to fill this vacancy this close to a presidential election in a craven exercise of political power, asking Senate Republicans to consider the long term consequences of showing their word is not to be taken seriously. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Justice Ginsburg’s death leaves a vacancy on the Supreme Court with only 44 days left before a national election that could result in a different president. A vacancy that could determine the future of the Supreme Court for generations, and make rulings that touch every aspect of American life.

Reporters will no doubt cover the political machinations here in Washington, but for hundreds of millions of Americans, this vacancy on the Supreme Court puts everything—everything—on the line.

Americans’ right to healthcare hangs in the balance. President Trump is pursuing a lawsuit which would eliminate protections for more than 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, send drug prices soaring for seniors on Medicare and take health insurance away from tens of millions of people.

He will nominate a justice that would ensure that result in a Supreme Court case that will be argued only a few weeks after Election Day.

A woman’s fundamental, constitutional right to make her own medical decisions; to control her own body, her right to choose—hangs in the balance.

The right of workers to organize and collectively bargain for fair wages--at a time of growing income inequality—hangs in the balance.

The future of our planet, environmental protections, and the possibility of bold legislation to address climate change hang in the balance.

Voting rights and the right of every American citizen to have a voice in our democracy hang in the balance.

The stakes of this election, the stakes of this vacancy, concern no less than the future of fundamental rights of the American people.

I was with my daughter and her wife to celebrate the Jewish New Year and they thought to themselves, and mentioned at the table, could their right to marry—could marriage equality—be undone? Those are questions hundreds of millions of Americans are asking about things near and dear to them, as this nomination hangs in the balance.

That’s what it’s about. All the rights enshrined in our Constitution that are supposed to be protected by the Supreme Court of the United States. All the rights that could be undone or unwound by a conservative majority on the Court. The right to join a union, marry who you love, freely exercise your right to vote; the right of a parent with a child who has cancer not to watch, helpless, as their son or daughter suffers without proper health care.

If you care about these things and the kind of country we live in—this election, and this vacancy, mean everything.

And by all rights, by every modicum of decency and honor, Leader McConnell and the Republican Senate majority have no right to fill it. No right.

In the final few weeks, sensing her failing health, Justice Ginsburg told her family that it was her “most fervent wish that [she] not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

That was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish—her most fervent wish—that she should not be replaced until a new president is installed.

The Senate Republican majority should have no problem adhering to Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish. Leader McConnell held a Supreme Court vacancy open for nearly a year in order to “give the people a voice” in selecting a Supreme Court Justice.

I just heard the remarks of the Republican Leader. It’s obvious why he’s so defensive.

This is what Leader McConnell said in 2016, mere hours after the death of Justice Scalia, his words: “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.”

No amount of sophistry can change what Leader McConnell said then, and it applies even more so now, more so, so much closer we are to an election.

In an op-ed on February 18, 2016 with Senator Grassley, Leader McConnell wrote: “Given that we are in the midst of a presidential election process, we believe the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

In the midst of an election process, February before the election, but now we are not? Now these words don’t apply? It doesn’t pass the smell test in any way. No wonder Leader McConnell was so defensive in his comments.

At a press conference on March 1, 2016, Leader McConnell said, “we will look forward to the American people deciding who they want to make this appointment through their own votes.”

On the floor on March 16, 2016, Leader McConnell said: “our view is this: give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”

That was more than 8 months away from a national election. This is 44 days. The Senate has never confirmed a nominee to the Supreme Court this close to a presidential election.

If that was how Leader McConnell and Senator Republicans justified their mindless obstruction of President Obama’s nominee, surely they must abide by their own standard. What’s fair is fair. What’s fair is fair. A senators’ word must count for something.

Senator McConnell has come to the floor many times to say that “your word is the currency of the realm in the Senate,” and that “It is important for all Senators to keep their word, but it is particularly important for the majority leader.” Leader McConnell said those things.

My friend, the distinguished Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sensed that this situation might arise, and made it crystal clear how he would behave if the shoe were on the other foot. “I want you to use my words against me,” he said. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

He reiterated that view less than two years ago and encouraged the audience to “hold the tape” for exactly this situation. No wonder Americans have so little faith in government and in this Senate led by the Republican Majority.

We now know the entire thing was a farce. Not a shred of credibility to those arguments. We have the exact scenario that Chairman Graham talked about—a Republican president and a Supreme Court vacancy in the last year of the first term, indeed it’s almost the last month of his first term.

“I want you to use my words against me,” he said. “You can say Lindsey Graham said the next president, whoever it might be, should make the nomination.”

Well, here we are. And despite their own words, despite their supposedly noble principle that the American people should have a voice in the decision of the next Supreme Court Justice, President Trump, Leader McConnell and Chairman Graham have already announced that they will ignore their own standard and will rush to confirm a new Justice before the next President is installed, a Justice that could tear down Justice Ginsburg’s life’s work and other critical laws, like the Affordable Care Act.

The kind words and lamentations we just heard from the Majority Leader about Justice Ginsburg are totally empty, totally meaningless if he moves to appoint someone who will tear down everything Justice Ginsburg built.

Leader McConnell put the Senate on “pause” for over four months while COVID-19 devastated our country, but now he will move earth and heaven, and ignore all principle and consistency, to install a new Supreme Court Justice who could rip away Americans’ health care in the middle of a pandemic.

Leader McConnell and Chairman Graham have made a complete mockery of their previous position. They seem ready to show the world their word is simply no good. It is enough to make your head explode. And then to hear Leader McConnell up on the floor trying to defend this? Pathetic. Pathetic.

Why even bother constructing a pretense for your position? Why say it’s this rule or that rule and then do the exact opposite when it suits your interests? Why not just come to the floor and say ‘I’m going to do whatever is best for my political party. Consistency be damned. Reason be damned. Democracy be damned?

Just admit it. There is no shaping the cravenness of this position.

But over the course of the debate, I know that Republican leadership is going to try. We are going hear some crazy things from the other side to defend the indefensible and justify this unjustifiable power grab. We've heard some of it already a few minutes ago.

We’re going hear a series of preposterous arguments. That it somehow has to do with the orientation of the Senate and presidency, as if that constitutes some legitimate principle. We’ll hear that Republicans have to do it because Democrats will do far worse, unnamed things in the future.

Some—some—few on that side will at least have the dignity of putting their head down and plowing through it because they know there is no reason—no reason, no argument, no logic—to justify flipping your position 180 degrees and calling it some kind of principle. It is not. It is utterly craven, an exercise in raw political power and nothing—nothing—more.

And I worry. I worry for the future of this chamber if the Republican majority proceeds down this dangerous path. If a Senate majority over the course of six years steals two Supreme Court seats using completely contradictory rationales, how could we expect to trust the other side again? How can we trust each other if, when push comes to shove, when the stakes are the highest, the other side will double cross their own “standards” when it’s politically advantageous?

Tell me how. Tell me how that would not spell the end of this supposedly great deliberative body. Because I don’t see how.

There is only one way—one way—for this chamber to retain its dignity through this difficult chapter.

There is only one way for us to have some hope of coming together again, trusting each other again, lowering the temperature, moving forward.

And that is for four brave Senate Republicans to commit to rejecting any nominee until the next President is installed.

That was Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish, and it may be the Senate’s only last hope.