Executive Sessionby Senator Marco Rubio
Posted on 2013-12-11
RUBIO. Mr. President, I intend to be here for the next little
bit--under an hour--sharing this time on the floor with you to discuss
some of the issues before us, particularly the pending issue before us
of nominations and the concern we have about that.
People back home and across the country may be watching the news tonight or perhaps over the last few weeks they have watched the news and wonder what this debate is about. I wish to use this opportunity tonight to address the nomination of Cornelia Pillard for the DC Circuit because it is a good example of the government overreach that has impacted all sorts of issues in our lives. So on this nomination issue, let's lay the groundwork here so people back home understand what is happening.
Last week or the week before last the Senate majority, by a simple majority vote, changed the practice of the Senate that has existed here since the beginning of the Senate, and they did so in an effort to grab more power for themselves and the President.
Basically, here is the precedent which has been set here and which is exemplified by the nomination before us. The precedent which has been established from now on is that any Presidential nominee, except for the Supreme Court--at least for now--is only going to need a simple majority vote to confirm them. There are problems with that because in the Constitution it gives the Senate--wisely--the power to advise and consent. The reason that was done, especially for judges, is that these are lifetime appointments. When someone is made a Federal judge, it is for the rest of their lives--unless they are impeached, which is a rare occurrence, thankfully. So these are people who are going to serve on the bench for the rest of their working lives, making decisions about the application and interpretation of our Federal laws. That is why the Senate was given this extraordinary opportunity to vet these people and to look for a supermajority of votes in this Chamber before someone is put in a position such as that. The other positions, of course, are Cabinet nominees, and so forth, and those are very important as well.
By breaking the rules to change the rules of the Senate--something that, by the way, we were told at least on two occasions this year was not going to happen but ultimately did--what we basically saw was the ramming through--just as ObamaCare was, on a party-line vote--of the President's nominees, and tonight's nominee is an example of that. This is going to have enormous consequences on this institution for sure. You are seeing it play out tonight.
I say to my colleagues in the majority party that the history of this body is that power trades hands. I believe that as early as January next year when a new Congress reconvenes, you won't be in the majority, you will be in the minority. Soon thereafter, there may be a Republican President appointing judges and appointing Cabinet members and other appointees. Now, all of a sudden, a simple majority is going to be enough, and you have set that precedent.
Beyond the impact that is going to have on this institution, it is going to have an impact on this country. It is going to have the impact of putting these activist judges, such as the nominee before us tonight, on the bench. It is going to have an impact on a wide range of issues, from ObamaCare, to the sanctity of life, to the Second Amendment, just to name a few.
Why does the majority want to pack this particulate bench, this particular DC Circuit Court of Appeals with a supermajority? Why? Well, it is because it is a court which is often called the second highest court in the country. It is a court which is key in reviewing all these regulations that are being imposed upon us. It is a court which is key in reviewing all these assertions of Executive power that this President and other Presidents have instituted.
[[Page S8647]] The current DC Circuit as currently made up has proven to be somewhat of an obstacle to the big-government agenda the White House and the majority here in the Senate have been pursuing, and they don't like it. That is, by the way, why the majority leader earlier this year said: We need at least one more--meaning one more judge--and that will switch that majority on that court. Well, with that vote, by changing the rules, that is what they are setting up for here.
Now they seek to expand it tonight or early tomorrow with a nominee who, quite frankly, is completely out of the mainstream. For example, on the question of abortion, do you know what Professor Pillard calls pregnancy? ``Conscription into maternity.'' I don't know what that means, but I bet the vast majority of Americans would see that as outside the mainstream.
By the way, as you look at the majority pulling out all these stops to confirm controversial nominations, such as this one who is someone completely outside the mainstream, they do so despite the fact that they have spent most of the last 10 years basically filibustering some of former President George W. Bush's best nominations to the judiciary, especially to the DC Circuit. Let me give some examples.
Senate Democrats, over 2 years, refused to even give Peter Keisler a Judiciary Committee vote despite his extraordinary credentials and a record of public service. At the time, they argued among other things that maybe the DC Circuit wasn't busy enough to warrant filling some of these vacancies. He was just the most recent of several Republican nominees to the DC Circuit whom Senate Democrats blocked and filibustered. There were others. For example, they successfully filibustered Miguel Estrada, a Honduran-born legal superstar, a person who some said may one day be the first American of Hispanic descent to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. Senate Democrats voted seven times to filibuster this great American success story and this great judge. Other nominees to the DC Circuit, including then-California Supreme Court justice Janice Rogers Brown and Brett Kavanaugh, also faced long delays of failed cloture votes and filibuster attempts, as did, by the way, President Bush's nominees all across the country.
The numbers on this issue do not lie. Numbers are facts, and the numbers don't lie about the double standard that has been applied here today. For example, tonight's vote on Judge Pillard will come after just 190 days after her nomination. For historical context, Senate Democrats obstructed now-Chief Justice John Roberts' DC Circuit nomination by 729 days. Another impressive nominee whom I mentioned earlier, Mr. Cavanaugh, took 1,036 days. Miguel Estrada was obstructed for 184 days. Janice Brown's nomination took 684 days. Tonight, 190 days. And on that and similar cases, they have completely changed the rules of the Senate and how the Senate nominates people to lifetime appointments to the second highest court in the land.
But despite this record and despite the fact that the DC Circuit is still known to be underworked today, the majority presses ahead on what will be a midnight or 1 a.m. vote to install a controversial law professor on the Nation's second most important court.
So what has changed? What caused the same people who used to routinely filibuster highly qualified judges to now come here and make these changes? What has changed is that now there is a Democrat in the White House. What has changed is they now want an ideologically compliant court. What they want is a liberal activist court, one that protects all the things they have rammed through Congress over the years and imposed through regulations and pushed through Executive order.
Now we know why Senate Democrats were less interested in the workload of the DC Circuit or the objective qualifications of the nominees over the past decade, why they were less concerned about that than they are today. It is because their dreams came true of having a Democrat in the White House and a majority in the Senate so their efforts to keep vacancies open, that is what has brought us here today, in order to fill them in order to radically change the Federal judiciary into their own image.
But I think what is important to understand is that this whole effort to start this debate about judges and all that is an effort to distract from another big government intrusion that everyone knows too well; that is, ObamaCare. Interestingly enough, this Sunday I was at a wedding. I was approached by someone who had a story similar to what my colleague from North Carolina just outlined. This is outside of ObamaCare. This is someone who has employer-provided care, but that is going to be impacted by these changes that are happening in the law. She had just gotten notice that her premiums had gone up, but here is what is worse. Her deductible had gone up to about $5,000 or $6,000. She doesn't have $5,000 or $6,000. The way she quickly figured it out is she is going to have to spend $6,000 she doesn't even have before she can even begin to use the health insurance plan that she can barely afford. She is basically uninsured.
I wish I could tell you that is a rare story and we are not getting a lot of input about that, but we are. This ObamaCare disaster is starting to take its toll. I think it is unconscionable, by the way, that the majority seeks to distract focus of this body on these important issues such as ObamaCare by pulling this stunt on the judges. But what it doesn't stop is the wave of letters we are getting from people all across the country. These letters are not talking points. These are not complex policy analysis. These are not op-eds in newspapers. These are the letters from real people who are being impacted in real ways by this law.
I wish to share with you some of their stories. I am going to leave their last names out to protect their privacy, but I wish no share with you some of these examples because these are very typical of the kinds of things we are hearing about all across the country.
Philip in Winter Springs. Philip is retired. He is living on a fixed income with insurance from United Health Care that he has for himself and for his wife. His monthly premium increased from $530 to $867. That is over a 60-percent increase in his monthly premium and his $15 copay has doubled now to $30.
How about Charles in Winter Garden? Charles had employer-provided health care which ObamaCare caused to spike in price nearly 80 percent more for his plan and his deductible is $12,000. He cannot afford $156 a week for health insurance if he wants to be able to provide for his two children and pay his bills.
Here is one from Janet in Titusville. Janet is a single mom who is losing insurance for herself and her children in January. This is not Janet's first challenge with the economy, by the way. She has been unemployed for 3 years. She took an underemployed job to provide insurance for her kids but only to lose it 1 year later. She just wants insurance that doesn't cost nearly 10 percent of her income so she can provide for her kids.
David in Lakewood Ranch has an insurance plan that will be canceled as of April 1, 2014. His current policy costs him about $291 a month with a $6,000 deductible. The new policy his insurance company suggested raises his monthly premium over 60 percent to $466 with a $12,000 deductible as well. David also looked at the silver plan for the exchanges but the monthly costs would be $525, with a $7,500 deductible. David's other problem is if he waits until his current plan is canceled on April 1, 2014, any other costs he has leading up to his deductible did not count on the new policy so he will be spending even more trying to reach a deductible that will increase along with his much higher monthly premiums. As he wrote to our office: I just want my old plan back.
Colleen in Winter Park is self-employed. She chose to have a plan that costs her $60 a month because that is all she can afford. She says that while she knows if she had to use her policy there would be hospital costs, she is more than willing to accept the risks.
Guess what. Her policy has been canceled. The new option is a $600-a- month plan and there is no way she can afford that plan. There is no way she can afford it.
[[Page S8648]] How about Sarah in Live Oak. Sarah had an individual policy for herself with a $2,000 deductible that ran $68 per month. Her plan has been canceled. Now she is looking at a $288-a-month plan with a $5,000 deductible. She feels she has been lied to by the President and by Congress and who can blame her for feeling that way.
How about Warren in Sanford. Warren in Sanford had health insurance for his family, four members of his family, with a monthly premium of $533 and a $10,000 deductible. While he would have preferred a lower deductible because his family is healthy and he was willing to take that risk, now that plan is gone. So Warren went on the exchanges to look for a new policy. His new monthly price was $1,300, more than double his old plan, with a $13,000 deductible. As Warren noted: ``Bottom line is I will be paying more and I will be getting less.'' He will be forced to do things like skip vacations or miss out on his children's activities.
Then there is Joe in Melbourne Beach. Joe had a health care plan that was canceled because of ObamaCare. He liked his plan. He told our office that he ``took great care in selecting my plan that I felt was right for me and for my needs.'' Now he has to shop for a new plan and all he sees are more expensive options. He tried the ObamaCare Web site, but it did not work for him, and on top of the Web site not working he is nervous about security risks when it comes to submitting his information to these Web sites.
There is Kenneth in Land O Lakes. He and his wife had a private insurance plan for over 11 years, but they do not anymore. They received a letter in the mail canceling their plan, telling them that ``due to the recent ACA legislation this policy is no longer available.'' The new option that is available to him, by the way, is from an insurance company that had a premium that was double the price of his current plan: $2,400 more a year. He doesn't know how he is going to cover this additional expense.
I don't think anyone disputes that we have a health insurance problem in America. But this is a disaster. Of course they want to do this judge thing. Of course they want to trigger some sort of fight about judges, Republicans objecting to judges and nominees. If you supported this, if you had voted for the law that does this to people, you don't want to talk about this. If you are responsible for the passage of this law, if you have gone around the last 2 years bragging about this law, if you are the one who went around telling me if you have a policy you like you can keep it, why would you ever want the world focused on this? The problem is people are going to be focused on this because this is no longer a theory. ObamaCare is no longer some theoretical thing that is going to happen at some point in the future to someone else. ObamaCare is happening to real people right now. Right now, all over this country, people are feeling these impacts. These are real people. This is not some outside third-party group running a commercial. This is not someone here giving a speech about what they think is going to happen. This is what is happening now and there are going to be more of these and it is going to impact Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals, red States and blue States. Everyone is going to be impacted by this. They already are being impacted by this. This is going to have a dramatically negative impact on our economy, on our people, and our country as a whole.
That does not mean we do not have a health insurance issue that should not be addressed. We could have addressed it and we still can by, for example, giving people more options in a truly vibrant, private, personal marketplace. Allow people to buy insurance from any company in America that will sell it to you. Allow people to buy it with money that is not taxed, just like when your employer buys it for you. Incentivize, encourage people, make it easier for people, make it more rewarding and more flexible to put money in a health savings account so you can have tax-free money you can use to pay your deductible, to pay your copayments, to pay out of pocket, to pay for your kid's braces. These are real options that are available to us, none of which were pursued.
Instead, what was pursued is this big government solution, one-size- fits-all plan rammed down the throats of the American people just like the judges, just like the nominee tonight. She is being rammed down our throat. Because when what you stand for cannot withstand scrutiny, when you have a judge such as the one before us tonight who is so outside the mainstream, you don't want a process that examines their record and requires consensus. You have to ram it through. When you have a law that so fundamentally alters the makeup of American health care, you don't want this thing being analyzed. You have to ram it through. They did it on ObamaCare and they did it on judges.
There is a reason our Republic was set up this way. There is a reason the system of checks and balances was set up this way. There is a reason the Senate was built this way, with people who serve 6-year terms, two per State. Because they wanted a Chamber that would slow things down and look at them carefully and weigh them.
But you cannot do that when you are changing the rules to ram things through. What you are going to get are radical lifetime appointments to the bench such as what we are on the verge of doing tonight in the Senate and what you get are these damaging changes to the law on health care which leave people with fewer choices, with more expenses and, here is the kicker, with less access to the quality health care that is second to none in the United States.
We have the best health care providers in the world. When rich and powerful people around this planet get sick, do you know where they come? They come to the United States. They come to our centers of excellence. Other places around the world have quality places similar to that too, but they are only available to people who have money to pay out of pocket. Their government-run insurance plans don't allow you to do that. They socialize you. They force you to wait in line behind other people until your turn is up. The only people who can go to the front and get the highest quality health care in many places on Earth are the richest people in the world who can afford to pay for that out of their pocket. This law brings us a little closer to that because many of these quality providers, the Sloan-Ketterings, the Mayo Clinics, the MD Andersons, these extraordinarily high-quality health care centers, many of these are not on the health care plans at all. In order to fit under ObamaCare, you have to cut people out of the plan so we get closer to the day when the only people who can afford to go to these centers are people who can afford to pay for it out of their pocket and everybody else, people on ObamaCare, they are just going to get whatever the plan covers. That is what you are stuck with. That is what we are headed toward.
We are going to deny the American people access to the highest quality health care system in the history of the world, not the best health insurance marketplace--there are reforms that need to happen there--but qualitywise, second to none. We are going to deny people access to that.
The other reason, by the way, this whole debate on judges is very bad for the country is it distracts us from the fundamental issue of our time, the central issue that faces our people and our country. It is one that I wish we spent more time focused on around here. I think both parties are a little guilty of not focusing on it enough.
When I was a child, when I was younger, I had all kinds of ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was blessed with parents who taught me that every single one of these dreams are within my reach. From my earliest memories, my parents instilled in me the belief that even though my family was not rich or powerful or connected, I could grow up to be anything I set my mind to because I was in America. Because I am an American. My parents knew America was special because they knew what life was like outside of it.
My parents were born into a society that most people are born into-- where the success you have in life is predetermined by the family you were born into. By the grace of God, my parents were able to come here--the one place on Earth where that isn't true--and the promise of America changed their lives.
[[Page S8649]] My parents never made it big. My mother worked as a cashier, a hotel maid, and even a stock clerk at Kmart. My dad was a bartender who primarily worked at banquets. Through hard work and determination, my parents made it to the middle class, and they gave us, their children, the opportunity to do all the things they were never able to do--to be anything we wanted to be. As I said, they were never rich, but my parents achieved the American dream.
That phrase, the ``American dream,'' is a phrase we use all the time, but it is a phrase that is often misunderstood. The American dream has never been about becoming wealthy or famous. Instead, it is about people, like me, who were born and raised here. It is about things I sometimes think we take for granted.
The American dream, what is it about? It is about a happy and stable home life where you can live without fear for your safety or the safety of your family. It is about the freedom to worship any way you want. It is about having the chance to get a good education and find a job that rewards hard work with financial security. The American dream is about being able to send your kids to college and being able to retire comfortably. It is about the opportunity to pursue happiness without being limited by your social status or your background. Perhaps most of all, the American dream is about being able to give your kids the chance and the opportunities you never had. This is the true American dream. It is not just a phrase. It is our identity as a nation. It is what it means to be an American.
We are still a country where the American dream is possible. We are still a place where, if you work hard and are determined, you can earn a better life. But we have to be honest. Over the last 10 years it has gotten harder to achieve this. It has gotten harder to find a good job and get ahead financially. It has gotten harder to save for retirement and send your kids to college. It has gotten harder to pay for health care, childcare, and the monthly payments on your student loan.
For the last 5 years we have been told that a bigger government that does more and spends more is the answer to this problem. Do you know what that has left us instead? It has left us with about $17 trillion in debt and millions of Americans chronically out of work. The result is that despite all of this news we get from time to time about how the economy is getting better or the stock market is climbing, for many people across this country there is a sense that recovery is not reaching them. That is creating true uncertainty and even fear about the future. There is the constant worry that you could lose everything you worked so hard for. There are doubts about whether you will ever make enough and have a few extra dollars after payday or be able to save for the future. Even for those who are enjoying the life they always wanted, you find a growing sense that their children may not get that same chance.
It is not surprising that some are starting to wonder whether the time has come for us to lower our expectations. Maybe the time has come to downgrade the American dream. This doesn't have to be the new normal. We have a choice. If we go in a new direction that gives us a government that creates less debt, an economy that creates more stable middle-class jobs, an education system that trains our people for the jobs available now and in the future, strong families who teach the values of success, and a financially healthy Social Security and Medicare system for retirees--if we are responsible enough to courageously and boldly fight to do these things, we can save the American dream. We can restore it. Actually, we can expand it to reach more people than it has ever reached before.
Our first priority here should not be ramming through rules changes to get liberal judges appointed. Our first priority should be more stable middle-class jobs. That should be our first priority. Stable middle-class jobs are the cornerstone of the American dream.
Let me break it to everybody here in Washington: Politicians don't create jobs. Politicians don't create these stable middle-class jobs. These stable middle-class jobs are created by everyday people when they start a business or grow an existing one. That, my friends, is the reason the American free enterprise system is the single greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known. The key to our success as a country has always been a thriving free enterprise system, not a thriving bigger government.
What we need from our government are policies that foster a free enterprise system, that provide opportunities for everyone who is willing to work hard, and a government that stops spending money it doesn't have. We have to bring our $17 trillion debt under control.
We need to address our broken Tax Code. We need one that creates more taxpayers, not more taxes. The current one we have is a major obstacle to the American dream. Why? Because our current Tax Code is expensive and complicated. Our current Tax Code is rigged. It is rigged to help those who are politically connected. It is rigged to help them at the expense of everybody else.
We need to reform the runaway regulations we have. They are destroying job creation. By the way, they too favor the well connected. They too favor the people who can afford to hire lobbyists to help write these rules and lawyers to help write the loopholes.
We need government policies that remove unreasonable restrictions on energy exploration here in this country so we can be freed from our dependence on foreign oil and create more jobs in the energy sector but also in manufacturing.
As I mentioned earlier, we need to get the cost of health care under control but not through the big-government solutions, such as ObamaCare, that were rammed down the throat of the American people but by encouraging the development of an individual health insurance market that gives people more choices, not more mandates.
The middle-class jobs of today and in the future will require more education and skills than ever before. That is why one of the most important investments of our time and our resources that we can make-- instead of wasting time on all of these distractions on changing the Senate rules to force through radical judges like the one being proposed here tonight--is in a quality and affordable education system that gives our people the unique skills they will need to succeed in a new global economy. To do that we need to take the power out of the hands of Washington, DC, and give it to the State and local school boards so they can undertake innovative reforms.
We need to pursue policies that expand access and interest in science, technology, engineering, and math because that is what the jobs of the future are going to be based on.
As mentioned a moment ago, we need to get the cost of college under control. I know. I graduated with over $100,000 in student loans. We need to give working Americans trapped in low-paying jobs access to college or a career education that is affordable and flexible so it meets within their busy lives. If you are a working parent-- particularly a single parent who is working--you can't just quit your job and move to the nearest college town to go to school for 4 years. We have to create programs. We have to reform our existing programs so they are accessible and affordable for people who are in this position. It will give a receptionist at a law firm the ability to become a paralegal. It will give a mail clerk at a medical office the ability to become an ultrasound technician. We have to meet this issue. There is an extraordinary need.
By the way, we have to give all of our students more access to career and vocational education. You can still make a good middle-class living as an airplane mechanic or as an electrician. Why have we stigmatized these? Why have we told children in this country that if they go into these fields, they are not successful? These are good, stable, and necessary middle-class jobs. You know what happens when a kid wants to work with their hands but they are not learning it in high school. They drop out. We have to address that--not just at the Federal level but across the country.
In addition to a good education, the American dream was built on a set of [[Page S8650]] fundamental values such as hard work, discipline, honesty, and self- control. Teaching these values is the responsibility of our families. Government can't impose these values, and, quite frankly, it can't teach them. Government policies should encourage and reward them.
I think we should empower parents by giving them the ability to send their kids to any school they choose. There is no reason why a parent should not be able to put their kids in the best possible educational setting just because they are poor. There is no reason why we should force people to send their kids to failing schools just because that happens to be the school right down the street. That is not fair. If you are rich, you can send your kids to any school you want. You know what. They do. Do you know who can't do that? The people who can't afford to pay for that. That is wrong, and we should change it.
We should strengthen our charities and our churches, which make an extraordinary contribution in helping the less fortunate and reinforcing values that are so important to success. We should reinforce them by making important changes to our Tax Code that will encourage and reward Americans for donating more.
We need to have safety net programs. The free enterprise system doesn't work without a solid safety net. It needs to be a safety net that helps people who cannot help themselves or to help people who have fallen to get back up and try again. We don't need a safety net that is a way of life.
We need to reform our existing safety net programs--welfare, unemployment insurance, disability, and Medicaid. They should all be reformed so that in addition to providing for those who are in need, these programs should also be promoting work and education and self- reliance.
Last but not least, I think the American dream means the ability to retire with stability and security. That is why having a financially healthy Social Security and Medicare system is so important. We can bicker around here all we want about how many votes it takes to get a judge in or who is obstructing what. Here is a fundamental fact: Social Security is going to run out of money in 20 years, which happens to be right around the time I will be getting close to being eligible for it. Medicare is going to run out of money in as few as 8 years.
The good news is that if we act and start to take steps to address that now, we can fix these programs, and we can fix them without disrupting the lives of people who are on those programs now--like my mother. I would never support any changes to these programs that would hurt people like my mother, who is on Social Security and Medicare. We can fix it, but to fix it, people like me--decades from retirement--are going to have to accept that while our Medicare and Social Security will be the best in the world, it is going to be different than it was for our parents, but it is going to exist.
By the way, beyond this, we should do some other things. We should make it easier, through changes in our taxes, for people to work beyond their retirement years. We should expand access to tax-advantage savings accounts for those who don't have access to a 401(k). We should incentivize people to save for their retirement.
I think what has bothered me the most in the 3 years I have been here is the lack of urgency about any of this. People talk about it. They propose laws called good things that maybe they polled and it sounded good. But in terms of moving on any of these things I just talked about, there is not a lot of urgency about it. We need to have more urgency about it. We need to stop wasting time around here changing the rules of the Senate to get a couple more of the President's radical appointments to the bench confirmed and spend a little bit more time figuring this out.
For most of the history of the world, almost everyone who was born was poor, without power, and without wealth. That only belonged to a select few. For most of the history of the world, your future was determined by your past. If your parents were poor, you would be poor too. If a person was born without opportunities, so were their children. What makes our country special is that hasn't been true here. What makes America special is we are a people not united by a common race or a common ethnicity; we are a people united by a common value: The idea that everyone has the God-given right to achieve a better life without being held back by the government or by one's social standing.
Right now, I work here. Washington is broken. It was broken when I got here and it still is. It is a process that is unable to function. With all due respect, it is a process that is plagued with people--in both parties, by the way--who are more interested in being someone than in doing something. I am telling my colleagues that if we continue on this road we are on right now, if we continue on the road we have placed this country on, we are going to lose the things that make America special. That is what we should be focused on, because there is another direction we can take. If we can find the political courage to boldly and responsibly confront and solve the challenges before us, we can restore the American dream. Actually, we can expand it to reach more people than it ever has before.
Every generation of Americans before us has had to do this. Every generation before us has been asked to do something to keep America special. Each has been asked to make sacrifices and take bold steps to preserve what makes us exceptional, and now it is our turn.
I remember a few years ago, there was a moment that reminded me of what is truly at stake here. I have shared this story many times. I was about to give a speech in a hotel ballroom. I think it was in New York City. There was a bartender there who had heard me speak before about my father, who was also a bartender, and he approached me with a gift. The gift he gave me was a name tag that said ``Rubio, banquet bartender,'' a name tag the same as they give in hotels. At that moment, I was reminded of how this country literally changed my family's very life. Not so long ago, it was my father who stood behind a bar, just like the one that gentleman stood behind, in order to give me the chance to earn a better life, and America made that possible. It was never easy. Both of my parents worked well into their retirement years.
I remember when I was in high school, well past midnight, on many nights, I would hear my father's keys jingling at the door as he came home from another long day of work. When we are young, the meaning of moments such as that escapes us. But now, as I get older and my children get older, I think I understand that moment a little bit better. Like the man who gave me that name tag that night in New York, my father was coming back from more than just another day at work; he was coming back from a day of fighting, so that the doors that had closed for him would be open for me.
This is still one of the few places on Earth where a person can do that. That is what makes us special.
Before us is the question of whether this generation of leadership is up to the task of keeping this country that way. I don't personally have any doubt that we are up to the task. Despite our many differences, I believe our people are much more united than our politics would lead one to believe.
Every single one of us, every single American is the descendant of a go-getter, of an immigrant or of a slave or of someone who overcame extraordinary odds to stake their claim in this American dream. Every single one of us comes from someone who refused to accept the life they lived and always desired to have something better for themselves and for their families. Every single one of us is a descendant of someone who insisted that their future must always be better than their past.
This is who we are as a people. This is who we come from. I believe that is still who we are. All we need now are leaders that reflect that in their policies and in their priorities.
So I still have more faith in this country than perhaps the political coverage might lead us to have because we are free people, and we are always going to vigorously debate the best way forward. Sometimes, because of the nature of our Republic, it takes us a little longer to get it right, but we always have. I believe we will again. In the end, there is no such thing as the Republican dream or the Democrat [[Page S8651]] dream, there is only an American dream. Despite all the challenges this country faces and despite some of the skirmishes on the floor of the Senate--at times unnecessary, such as this debate with the judges and the rule change--despite all of that, I know for a fundamental fact that the American people are not willing or prepared to give up on this American dream.
That requires us to act. That requires us to stop wasting time around here and to focus on the issues. We have this golden opportunity to restore this American dream and to bring it within reach of more people than ever before. We have an opportunity before us to claim our heritage as a people who always leave behind a Nation better than the one that was left for them. We have a chance to usher in a new American century and to write the latest chapter in the story of the single greatest Nation that man has ever known. So I hope as we conclude these debates on issues such as this, we will somehow find a way to begin to work together on what really matters, on matters of importance, on what impacts Americans now and those yet to come.
That leads me to one final point. I see my colleague from Wisconsin is on the floor, as well as others who wish to speak. I will close with one more point, one more issue I think we are being distracted from because of the silliness of breaking the rules to change the rules so we can impose on the American people out-of-the-mainstream judges and cabinet appointments that are less than qualified, and that is the issue of American leadership in the world. Look around the world today. Look at the impact of uncertainty about our foreign policy and what effect it is having across the planet.
I am going to be honest and straightforward about this issue especially: This is an issue for both parties to reflect on for a moment. We all understand why we are wary--and we should be--of international engagement. We have gone through a decade of two conflicts in the Middle East. We turn on the television and we see people we have spent money and sacrificed lives on behalf of burning our flag and celebrating our tragedies, and we wonder, Why are we involved in the world. Why are we engaged in these places? But I hope everybody understands that in the absence of American leadership a vacuum is created, and that vacuum leads to chaos, and chaos ultimately impacts our national security and our economic well-being.
Take a brief tour around the world with me for a moment and my colleagues will see what I am talking about. Turn on the news and see what is happening in Ukraine where a country is being increasingly intimidated into going back into basically what looks like an effort to reconstitute the former Soviet Union, being torn between that and choosing modernization in the West with the European Union. There are people in the streets protesting against that and riot police going in there to force them out.
Look at the Middle East, where Iran proceeds full speed ahead with weaponizing, towards creating a nuclear weapon and the impact that would have--and not just on arming the one country in the world that most uses terrorism as a tool of statecraft. We had testimony today from the administration. No country in the world uses terrorism more than Iran does, and they are going to get a nuclear weapon. It won't just be Iran getting a nuclear weapon. If Iran gets a weapon, so will Saudi Arabia and potentially Turkey. Look at what is happening in Asia. The Chinese have announced that a certain area belongs to them and their airspace, that others have to get permission from them and notify them before anyone flies through there. South Korea and Japan and others, they are starting to wonder whether America will live up to its commitments to provide for their defense and to assist them or maybe they need to strike out on their own and provide their own defense capabilities.
Look at the opportunities in the Western Hemisphere we have abandoned because we have taken our focus elsewhere. I could go on and on.
Are we a strong enough voice on behalf of religious liberties? Meanwhile, religious minorities around the world are being oppressed in unprecedented ways. In particular, Christians in the Middle East are facing persecution that is reminiscent of the early days of the church.
How about human rights? How about human trafficking and modern day slavery? All of these things require American leadership.
We can't solve every problem. Foreign aid isn't charity. It needs to further our national interests and the funds need to be accountably spent. But this is something we should be more focused on and we are not. Why? Because we continue to get involved in these sorts of skirmishes here and, in particular, undermining the ability of this body to function by changing the rules by breaking them.
So I hope this will serve as an opportunity to reevaluate all of this, because the challenges before our country are real and the consequences of not acting appropriately are dramatic. I hope we will take this seriously, because we still have time to get this right, but we do not have forever.
With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.