Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke on the Senate floor last night about the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the state of American politics, and his vote to change the rules of the Senate. Today, the Senate voted to confirm Gorsuch by a vote of 54-45.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor
April 6, 2017
RUBIO: [A]t some point we will, I believe, vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch to be a justice to the United States Supreme Court. There's so much that’s been said about him and his qualifications and I have been watching the speeches all week, and even heading to the committee hearing, I think so much has been said about him. This is a mainstream candidate. This is a mainstream judge, someone who has voted with the majority 99 percent of the time in his time on the bench. Someone who 97 percent percent of the time of the 2,700 cases was a part of rulings that were unanimous. He most certainly, I believe, is someone that believes that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original intent of the writers, but certainly not someone outside the mainstream of American legal thinking and certainly imminently qualified.
It's interesting that you see a broad array of individuals come forward and talk about his qualifications. I also thought it was interesting that there really was no coherent reason for opposing him. I heard a lot of different opinions on the floor claiming that he would not commit to certain decisions that people would like to see him make on the court. That would be true of virtually everyone that’s been nominated to the court over the last quarter century. So, there’s no doubt that this is someone who has certain beliefs and views about the Constitution reflective of the president's party but that’s what elections are about. And obviously the people that President Obama appointed reflected his thinking. And that’s our system.
A lot of the attention though in this debate has been about the process that brought us here and the tremendous consternation about the change that no longer would require 60 votes in order to end debate. And a lot of people I think have a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s happened and how we’ve gotten here. And I thought it was important for the people of Florida and others who may be interested to know how I approached it because it was something that I am not excited about, nor gleeful about, nor happy about. And I would say that’s probably the sentiment of most of the people here in the Senate and yet it happened anyway. I saw a cartoon by one of these editorial cartoonists, I am not quite sure who it was, and it had this picture of both sides basically saying, ‘this is terrible but we're going to do it anyways.’ I think it’s important to understand first and foremost about the Senate: it’s unique. There’s no other legislative body in the world like it.
It, unlike most legislative institutions, does not function by majority rule. It actually requires supermajorities to move forward and that was by design. It was not an accident. The people, the founders, the framers, they created a system of government in which they wanted one branch of the legislature to be very vibrant, active, representative of the people. They represent districts, they have two-year terms.
And then they did a higher, or another chamber, which is different in nature. At the time, the U.S. Senate was designed, first of all, to represent the states. The House was the People's House, the Senate was a place where the states were represented, and the other thing they wanted to design is a place that was, to some level, as possible, immune from the passions of the moment. They wanted a place where things would slow down for a moment, take a deep breath, make sure we're doing the right thing. It was a wise course.
So, our republic isn't perfect, but it has survived for over two centuries and in the process gave us the most dynamic, most vibrant and I believe most exceptional nation in all of human history. And, while not perfect, the Senate has been a big part of that endeavor. By the way, at the time senators were elected by the legislature, they weren’t even elected by people. Of course, that changed and I’m not saying we should go back but that's the way it was.
That Senate was also unique because it had this tradition of unlimited debate. When a senator got up to speak, you got to debate as long as you wanted and no one can stop you. And then at some point that began to get a little bit abused so they created a rule that required a supermajority and that supermajority was further watered down and then we arrived here over the last four years to see what’s happened.
And so basically what happens now as a result of a procedure that was undertaken on the floor, first by Senator Reid when he was the majority leader and now by the majority leader today, is that on what's called the executive calendar, nominations, to the cabinet, for ambassadors, subcabinet, courts, and now Supreme Court, there are two ways to stop debate. Number one, by unanimous consent, everybody agrees to it or, number two, there are 51 votes, a majority vote. And I think that's problematic in the long term. Not because of Judge Neil Gorsuch, who I believe in any other era, and at any other time would have not just gotten 60 votes or even unanimous consent to stop debate, I think he would have gotten 60 plus odd votes, maybe 70 votes to be on the court.
I think it's problematic because we don't know who’s going to be the president in 15 years nor the state of our country. And yet, by a simple majority, without talking to a single person or getting a single vote from the other party or the other point of view, they are going to be able to nominate and confirm and place on the bench of the Supreme Court, to a lifetime appointment, to a co-equal branch of government, someone without even consulting with the other side. And I think long term that’s problematic. In the case of Neil Gorsuch, not so much. For the future of our country, I think it could be problematic. Now the argument’s been made, ‘well this has never been used before, so all this does is bring us back to where we once were.’ I think technically that’s accurate. But this is not exactly where we once were before.
Where we were before was that there were people who worked here who understood they had the power to do this. They got it. They understood that if they wanted to they could force the 60 votes. They understood they had the power to do it but they chose not to exercise it. They chose to be judicious because they understood that with the power comes not just the power to act but sometimes the power not to act, to be responsible, to reserve certain powers for extraordinary moments where it truly is required. And over the years it's been abused.
Now, this is not going to be a speech where I stand up here and say, ‘and this is all the Democrats.’ I most certainly have quarrels with some of the decisions that have been made by the other side of the aisle. I think it's a moment to be honest and say we've all brought us here to this point, both sides, and has required us to do this.
The reason why I was ultimately able to vote for the change today is because I'm convinced that no matter who would have won the presidential election, no matter which party would have controlled this chamber, that vote was going to happen. Both sides were going to do this because we have reached the point in our politics, in America, where what used to be done, is no longer possible. And that has ultimately found its way on to the floor of the United States Senate.
Now, rules are rules and ultimately the republic will survive the change we have seen here today. I think the more troubling aspect are the things that have brought us to this point. A couple days ago at a lunch with my colleagues I said, ‘one of the things I think we’re going to have to accept is that quite frankly the men and women who served in this chamber before us and 20, 30 years ago were just better than us.’ These were human being that were quite frankly, had deeply held beliefs. I don't know of any member of this chamber who is more conservative than Barry Goldwater or Jesse Helms. I don’t know of any member of this chamber who is more progressive or liberal than Hubert Humphrey or Ted Kennedy or others. And yet somehow, despite their deeply held principles, these individuals were able to work together to prevent what happened here today.
The fact of the matter is for both sides is that’s not possible anymore. Today our politics requires us to use every measure possible, even if it's for symbolic purposes. That’s just the way it is. And that is more of a reflection of our political process than it is of the Senate. I’ve seen these articles written, ‘oh, the end of the Senate, the death of the Senate.’ No, it's a little bit of an exaggeration.
I think it’s actually just reflective of the fact that this is the way politics have become That we are as a nation today less than ever capable of conducting a serious debate about major issues the way we once were able to do. And I think everyone is to blame. I think the way politics is covered is to blame.
Today, most articles on the issues before us are not about the issues before us. They are about the politics of the issues before us. Today, most of the work that's done in this chamber and in the other chamber has more to do with the messaging behind it than it does with the end result of where it will lead us. That's just the honest fact.
And before people start writing or blogging, ‘well look at all these other times when the senator from Florida,’ when me, when I, did some of these things, I admit it. I don't think there is a single person here with clean hands on any of this. I admit that I have been involved in efforts that looking back on some of these things perhaps if we knew then what we knew now we would have done differently. I think it's important in life to recognize and learn from those experiences and to adopt them to the moment before us.
I think moving forward, the biggest challenge we will face as a country is that our issues are not going to solve themselves. They will require people from very different states, very different backgrounds, and very different points of view to be able to come together and solve some pretty big deals. And it is ultimately not about silencing people or having them compromise their principles, but about acknowledging that in our system of government, we have no choice but to do so. We have no choice.
I think it also requires us to take a step back and understand that the people who have a different point of view than ours actually believe what they are saying. They hold a deep-- and they represent people who believe what they are saying. And I say this to you as someone who will admit that in my time in public service, perhaps have not always applied that as much as I wish I had. I tried to. You certainly live and learn when you get to travel the country and meet as many people as I did over the last couple of years, I certainly think that impacts you profoundly.
I have a deeply held belief in limited government and free enterprise and a strong national defense and the core principles that define someone as a conservative. But I’ve also grown to appreciate and understand people who share a different point of view. Perhaps not as much as I hope to one day be able to understand it and respect it, but certainly more than I once did, simply because the more people you meet, the more you learn about them, the more you learn and understand where they're coming from.
Are we capable as a society to once again return to a moment where people who have different ideas can somehow try to figure out how to make things better even if they're not perfect? I hope so. Because the fate of the most important country in human history is at stake. Are we capable of once again having debates, not that aren't vibrant and not that from time to time people may not say or even do things they regret, but certainly ones that at the end of the day are constructive for the purpose of solving a problem, not winning an election alone. I hope so, because if we don't, we’ll have to explain to our children why we inherited the greatest country in human history and they inherited one that was in decline.
I don't mean to exaggerate because ultimately this is a rule change. We don't vote on the Supreme Court every day, every week, every month, sometimes we don't vote on it for long periods of time. But I think it exposes a more fundamental challenge that we face today in American politics that we better confront sooner rather than later and that we should all confront with the understanding and the knowledge that none of us come to it with clean hands.
We're reminded again this week in the images that emerge from Syria of what a dangerous world we live in, and reminded that the threats remain. And I ask people tonight, no matter who you write for, who you blog for, what political party you're a member of, or who you voted for in November, to ask yourself a question and to be honest about the answer. If God forbid, and I mean this, God forbid there were another 9/11-style attack on the United States, how would we honestly react? Because September 11th was a scary day, and on that day, I remember there weren't Democrats or Republicans. Everyone was equally frightened and everyone was equally angered and there was a sense of unity of purpose that we had not seen in a long time and have not seen since.
I honestly believe, sadly, that if today there were another of that kind of attack on America, one of the first things you would see people doing is blaming whose fault it was. You would have some people saying, ‘well, this terrorist attack happened because President Obama didn't do enough to defeat the terrorists.’ Another group would say, ‘this attack happened because the Republicans and the new president, President Trump, has not done enough or has done things that have provoked them.’ I honestly believe that. I think that that is what the debate would look like. I hope I’m wrong.
Just think about how far we have come in almost 20 years or 15 years. That's the kind of debate I believe we would have. Think about how destructive that is. I also think you would see a plethora of crazy, fake stories about what was behind it. And here's the craziest part. Some very smart and educated people would believe those stories. Because we’ve reached the point now where conspiracies are more interesting than facts. I know that, you know, people may see this and say, ‘oh, I think you're exaggerating.’ Maybe. I hope so. But I honestly think that we're headed in a direction that's actually making us, not us the Senate, us, Americans, incapable of confronting problems.
And I would just say this. What I really hope will happen soon is that we're going to get tired of fighting with other Americans all the time, that we'll finally get fatigued with all of this fighting against other Americans constantly. Americans are not your enemies.
Quite frankly, I hope we have no enemies anywhere in the world other than vicious leaders that we hope to be a part of seeing them taken out of power at some point for the horrible things they do. I hope we'll reach a point where people are saying, ‘I'm just tired of constantly fighting with other Americans.’ And we'll have differences, we'll debate them. Thank God that we’ve been given a republic where we have elections every two years and we can have these debates. But in the interim, whether we like it or not, none of us is going anywhere. The vast and overwhelming majority of Americans will live in this country for the rest of their lives. This is their home and this is their country, and we are going to have to figure out how to share and work together in this unique piece of land that we have been blessed with the opportunity to call home. And if we don't figure out a way to do that soon enough, then many of these issues that confront America will go unsolved, and not only will our people pay a price and our children pay a price, but the world will pay a price.
And so I know that's a lot to say about a topic as simple as a rules change and ultimately a vote for the Supreme Court, but I really think it exposed something deeper about American politics that we better confront sooner rather than later, or we will all live to regret what it leads to. And that is the decline of the single greatest nation in all of human history.