Schumer Floor Remarks On The Nomination Of Thomas Farr To North Carolina’s Eastern District, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, And The Need To Pass Legislation To Protect The Special CounselNovember 26, 2018
First Mr. President, let me welcome everyone back from Thanksgiving, which I hope was a joyous one for everyone here today.
Now on a subject not so joyous, the Majority Leader has indicated that the Senate will move to the pending nomination of Thomas Farr to the Eastern District of North Carolina.
I’ve been in the Senate long enough to see a whole bunch of questionable nominees, frankly from both parties, but Thomas Farr is unquestionably one of the worst. It’s hard to believe President Trump nominated him, it’s even harder to believe Senate Republicans are considering him again. This is a man who stands for disenfranchisement of voters, particularly minority voters. That is what he stands for. You can try to parse it any way you want but that is what he has done. That is not America.
He spent his long legal career working against the rights of unions, in addition, but he has demonstrated himself to be a dyed-in-the-wool partisan with particular hostility to voting rights. We all know that North Carolina has done more to hurt voting rights than just about any other state. That’s an ignominious title for a state that’s trying to be more progressive and forward-looking. We all know that, and we also know that Justice Roberts will go down in history as one of those who worked to take away voting rights when he authored the Shelby County decision and more or less stated that he didn’t believe discrimination existed any longer so we wouldn’t need Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And that allowed people like Mr. Farr, and like those in North Carolina, to do a wholesale taking-away of voting rights, particularly those of minorities.
After challenging multiple congressional maps drawn by North Carolina’s Democrats, Mr. Farr vigorously defended the congressional maps drawn by North Carolina’s Republicans, and even this conservative Supreme Court, often so insensitive to the voting fairness and rights of minorities, the Supreme Court actually overturned this map for discrimination. Discrimination – not partisanship – discrimination.
Mr. Farr defended North Carolina’s restrictive voting laws. The law, passed by a very conservative Republican legislature, requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.
After receiving the data, North Carolina Republicans made five changes to voting and registration, every one of which disproportionately hurt the voting ability of African Americans. Under the law, even citizens who showed government employee IDs, student IDs, or IDs used to receive public assistance were not allowed to vote. Here’s what the 4th Circuit – again, not a liberal court circuit – said. It said the law had "discriminatory intent" and "targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision." Mr. Farr, as he defended this law, said it was a “minor inconvenience” for voters. This is despicable. Despicable. A law is particularly designed to prevent African-Americans from voting and we are nominating such a man to the Court, when he was chief cook and bottle washer for much of the time these laws came about? I don’t care what your party is and I don’t care what your political ideology is, how can you elevate this man to the court?
Remarkably, Mr. Farr was involved in another sordid affair regarding the voting rights of African-Americans. In 1990, Mr. Farr was a lawyer for the re-election campaign of Republican Senator Jesse Helms, during which the Department of Justice alleged that over 120,000 postcards had been sent overwhelmingly to black voters intended to intimidate them from voting. Is that amazing? That man is the man we’re elevating. I believe the Republican Party is going to have huge trouble in the future. And they’ll shrug their shoulders, they’ll say ‘oh this is political correctness.’ No it isn’t, it’s because they tolerate things just like this. Not all, but too many. Right now we only have one person on the other side of the aisle who said he’d vote against Farr. I don’t care what the marching orders are. It’s wrong.
In response to a question from Ranking Member Feinstein, Mr. Farr denied that he had “participate[d] in any meetings in which the postcards were discussed before they were sent.” However, the deputy chief of the voting section in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said Farr’s response was “contrary to the facts.” In effect, that DOJ person was saying Mr. Farr did participate.
We don’t know the exact circumstances of that mailer. But, at minimum, it’s disturbing that Mr. Farr was involved – often directly – in defending multiple attempts by North Carolina’s Republicans to disenfranchise African-American voters.
As the Congressional Black Caucus said: “Had the White House deliberately sought to identify an attorney in North Carolina with a more hostile record on African-American voting rights…than Thomas Farr, it could hardly have done so.” It was well said.
I don’t care if you’re a Republican, I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or something in between, we should not elevate a person to the federal bench who has spent a good part of his career defending those who want to undermine the right of Americans to vote.
And let’s look at the circumstances of this nomination. Leader McConnell brags how many seats he’s filled. It’s because these seats were held back because we respected the blue slips when we were in the majority and there were a lot of empty seats. Well, this one is the longest-running judicial vacancy in the United States. Why, you might ask, has this seat has remained open for so long? Republican Senators blocked two Obama nominees, both of whom were African-American women. Let me say that again. Republican senators blocked two Obama nominees, both of whom were African-American women. And now we put this man in their place? And all because Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley changed the rules and eliminated the last bit of comity by eliminating the blue slip. Each of those women would have become the first African-American ever – not just the first African-American woman, but the first African-American ever – to serve in that judicial district, when the population of that district is twenty-seven percent African-American.
Two women, knocked out by Republican Senators under the tradition of the blue slip; both African-American in a district that is twenty seven percent African-American. They’re not on the bench and we are nominating this man, who has stood steadfastly against the right of people, in this case, black people to vote. That is despicable. Despicable. Considering Mr. Farr’s history on voting rights – on the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in particular – his nomination to the Eastern District vacancy is not just a dash of salt in the wound, it’s the whole shaker.
I would ask my Republican colleagues: after an election in which voting rights and voting suppression were major issues in states like Georgia and Florida, at a time when our president always says elections are fixed and Americans faith in the wellspring of our democracy, the right to vote and it be counted and correctly tabulated in a fair way, what message does the Senate send if it approves Mr. Farr’s nomination? This is our democracy. For the first time in the history of America, nasty creatures are gnawing at its roots. The tree could fall down. I hope it won’t, it’s a strong tree, but it could fall down and it will be aided and abetted by those put people like Mr. Farr on the bench. I vociferously oppose his nomination and urge my colleagues to do the same.
Now one other point, Mr. President, on Mr. Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general. It’s been almost three weeks since President Trump tapped Mr. Matthew Whitaker to be the acting attorney general.
Since that time, I, along with Democratic Leader Pelosi and ranking members of key committees in the House and Senate, have sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for a formal update on whether Mr. Whitaker must recuse himself from the Russia investigation, given that he has had a long history of criticizing it. We have not yet received a response. It’s been weeks, no response.
I’ve sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking its inspector general to look into whether Mr. Whitaker and the White House had any improper or unlawful conversations prior to his appointment. Again, no response.
In the meantime, we’ve learned that before joining the Department of Justice, Mr. Whitaker served on the advisory board of a company accused of scamming and deceiving consumers. We’ve learned he received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions … four years after his campaign ended. Doesn’t seem like a campaign contribution, does it? Something else far more evil was at stake. And he got them just before he became Attorney General Sessions’ chief of staff.
And we’ve learned, amazingly, that he’s received some $1.2 million in compensation for unspecified work for a shadowy, conservative dark-money organization that refuses to disclose its donors.
The more the public learns about Mr. Whitaker, the more troubling his appointment becomes. He’s hardly the most honorable man given all this. And he’s the acting attorney general, without any review by anyone other than President Trump, who has shown that he wants the Department of Justice to be his personal arm of attack. Not the rule of law, to go after his enemies and lay off his friends.
Beyond the shady business dealings, the most important thing is that Mr. Whitaker won’t recuse himself from the Russia probe, despite publicly expressing his bias against the investigation. Clearly, he’s shown he’s willing to meddle in the investigation – and that, in all likelihood, is why President Trump appointed him. What a sad place we’re in.
We need to come together here in the Senate – Democrat and Republican – to pass legislation to protect the special counsel’s investigation. We already have the bill. It’s bipartisan, two Republicans and two Democrats. It has passed committee on a bipartisan vote. Chairman Grassley, to his credit, voted for it. And now we have urgent reason to consider it here on the floor.
If the Majority Leader refuses to give it the vote that it deserves, Democrats will push to include it in the must-pass spending bill that we must approve in the next few weeks.