Schumer Floor Remarks on Failure of Trump Administration to Vet Nominees, the Appropriations Process, and the Need to Protect Mueller Investigation from Political InterferenceApril 24, 2018
Now, Madam President, tomorrow, the Rules Committee will markup Senator Lankford’s resolution to change the rules on the consideration of nominations to benefit the Senate majority. Of course, the majority in the Senate already can approve of a nomination on a party-line vote, for all nominees, up to and now including the Supreme Court, since Leader McConnell elected to change those rules last year.
Why the need for further erosions to minority rights in the Senate? Republicans argue it’s because they are facing “historic” obstruction of the president’s nominees.
A few points on that: first and foremost, the truth is that Democrats have cooperated with the majority on non-controversial nominees like career ambassadorships and civil servants for a long time now. Before this recess, there’s a long list of names that have been approved. Before the last recess, the Senate had confirmed nearly as many nominations in 2018 as President Obama had confirmed in the analogous year, 2010. Let me repeat that. Before the last recess, the Senate has confirmed almost the exact same number of nominees in 2018 as President Obama had confirmed in 2010 - the second year of his presidency.
So this idea that it’s “historic” - bunk. You can tell it’s bunk, because the president and vice president at the same time Republicans, and even the president himself, on some days complain about obstruction, on other days the president and vice president are boasting about how many judges they’ve filled on the bench. President Trump has said “we put on a tremendous amount of federal district court judges.” “We are setting records.” Well, I say to my Republican friends and the president you can’t have it both ways – on the one hand, “historic obstruction,” and on the other, a “record” pace of confirmations that you brag to your base about. Can’t have it both ways. It is hypocrisy.
A second point: the Republican majority has already taken brazen steps this Congress to limit minority rights on nominations. I mentioned the Leader breaking the rules on Supreme Court nominees. Let’s not forget, he broke the rules after letting Merrick Garland sit there, and not allowing a nomination. It takes a lot of gall to complain about obstruction when Leader McConnell opened the gates to obstruction, made obstruction his watchword when he did what he did to Merrick Garland.
And he didn’t stop, the Republicans have not stopped this year. The Republicans engaged in hardball tactics at the district and circuit court levels. Here’s what happened. Take the Republican seat – take the seat that’s vacant on the 7th Circuit. Because Senator Leahy, then Chairman – and later Senators Hatch and Grassley – honored the blue slip in the 7th Circuit that belonged to Wisconsin, it was held open for six years – six years – by refusing to approve two nominations by President Obama.
Now, the president has nominated a very conservative judge, Michael Brennan, who failed to earn the recommendation of the bipartisan commission – respected in Wisconsin - set up by both Senators Baldwin and Johnson – one a Democrat, and one a Republican - to recommend federal judicial nominees. But this administration has known no concern about the real qualifications of the judges, as long as they meet the hard-right checklist President Trump nominated them anyway. Despite the fact that Senator Baldwin has not returned a blue slip for Mr. Brennan, Chairman Grassley moved him out of committee anyway - the second time Chairman Grassley has ignored the blue slip tradition.
The blue slip tradition was faithfully honored by Senator Leahy when he was chairman – our Republican colleagues used it to an extent that would certainly be “historic obstruction.” Six years a seat was vacant on the circuit court, and not the only one that had long term vacancies. And now all of a sudden, because Democrats want to discuss this, mull this for a few days, Senator Langford wants to change the rules? I know he only came to the Senate in 2014, but he ought to look a bit at the history before he gets into high dudgeon.
The issue of nominations has been fraught, and it’s true that there have been escalations on both sides, I would be the first to say that. Democrats, despite the rhetoric from the majority party, have worked this year in good faith to clear noncontroversial nominations expeditiously. When nominees require vetting, the Senate should have the tools to consider them thoroughly, because, clearly, this administration is not taking the task of vetting seriously.
And this is a final argument, there are many good ones I’d like to make. This Trump administration has done the worst job of vetting their nominees of any administration I can remember. It seems a slap-dash process. So, they’ve had to withdraw their nominee to the Labor Department because he wasn’t properly vetted, fired Secretaries of HHS, State, and VA, and faced a host of other controversies with staff and turnover. I dare say if Mr. Pruitt had been properly vetted, they would never have nominated him, given what we’ve found out. And now we hear that the new nominee for VA Secretary, the president’s personal doctor, is on hold because of some troubling allegations. How did he get through the process with all of these allegations not even being made public? My guess: not proper vetting. I wasn’t there, but it’s speculative that one day the president, who we know acts on impulse, had this nominee in the room, his doctor, and said, “Hey, let’s put you up.” Without any vetting. So, the president is putting forward nominees without appropriate vetting, and it’s our job to vet, and we will not be rushed through, particularly when this administration has such a poor record of looking at the qualifications and the problems that each nominee brings. More than ever – more than ever with this president - it’s the Senate’s job to advise and consent, not be a rubber stamp.
So, the rules change proposed by Senator Lankford is totally unmerited, inadvisable, and lacks any knowledge of history of the Senate. You know, we’re trying to return to some comity here. The omnibus bill worked very well between Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell, Leader Pelosi, and myself. We’re going to meet in a little while to talk about doing the appropriations process on regular order, and going back to the days in which we did that, which I know the Majority Leader sincerely wants to do, as do I, as does Senator Shelby, as does Senator Leahy. Something like this, so partisan, so unfair, and so unacknowledging of the history that has gone before, doesn’t help the sense of comity in the Senate. I urge Republicans and Democrats alike on the Rules Committee to reject this terrible ill-advised proposal.
Now, on another matter, Madam President – over the last few months, House Republicans have heaped enormous pressure on the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, in a transparent attempt to bully him into providing documents pertinent to an ongoing investigation, something we have hardly ever seen before, something that really gets in the way of law enforcement doing their job.
Representative Nunes, who has shown his partisanship repeatedly, and others went so far as to threaten Mr. Rosenstein with contempt of Congress and even impeachment if he didn’t hand over the former FBI Director Comey’s memos, FISA court documents, and other information related to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into foreign interference. Mr. Rosenstein gave them that information, which, of course, was leaked out afterwards into the press.
It is not Justice Department protocol, nor any other prosecutors protocol, to share information pertinent to an ongoing investigation. It just welcomes interference, and that’s true even when the most objective people get the information - and I believe 95% of Americans do not believe Congressman Nunes is objective, that is. It is not hard to understand why we don’t do this. And yet several House Republicans have smeared Mr. Rosenstein and even threatened his job unless he broke with longstanding prosecutorial guidelines, forcing him to give them information they could twist into political ammunition.
What Representative Nunes and others have been doing is disgraceful, just disgraceful, and not consistent with us being a democracy where there is rule of law – more consistent with a bullying attitude that we see in non-democratic - small D - countries. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is doing his level best to honor the integrity of the Russia probe while being dragged through the mud by the president and his allies in Congress. He’s a strong man. He’s done an excellent job, and he’s doing his best now. He’s doing what a deputy attorney general should be doing.
Mr. Rosenstein deserves our respect – all parties’ respect, the whole country’s respect - for his efforts to be honest and transparent with Congress while maintaining the integrity of the Russia probe. But even so, as a columnist in the Washington Post put it this morning, “it’s a miserable day at the Justice Department when the deputy attorney general is forced at gunpoint – bullying, threatening - to turn over important evidence in a pending criminal investigation.” The bullying and threatening were my parenthetical words. It continues to be a real disgrace that House Republicans engage in such bare knuckle tactics in a relentless effort to deter and kick up dust around the Mueller investigation. Our fellow Republicans, the bar across the country, and the country itself – the public – should resist this kind of bullying and pressure. So un-American, so against rule of law, so against how democratic republics work.