National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014—Continuedby Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2013-12-19
COATS. Mr. President, saner heads have prevailed. I think the
news that we just received brought a much more reasonable way of moving
forward rather than two more all-nighters with votes every 4 hours or
so. It was not pleasing for anyone, particularly during the Christmas
season. It was totally unnecessary to do this, had there not been some
precipitating factors. I did not come down here to point fingers. There
is frustration on both sides, frustrations on the Democratic side with
Republicans--but I do not think it has been explained, what caused
Republicans to become so concerned and so frustrated and frankly so
angry over the way that the rules were broken to change the rules,
something that has been precious to this body for its more than 200
years, and that is the uniqueness of the ability of a minority to have
a say in legislation, to amend or at least to offer amendments. They
may succeed, they may not succeed, but to have a voice.
I think those who have not served here in the past and have never been in the minority cannot begin to appreciate that right. I started in the House of Representatives where the majority rules. That is the way the Founding Fathers established that body. But they said they wanted the Senate to be different, a place where the passions could be cooled, where debate could be held, where amendments could be offered, where laws could be changed or modified. Members were given a 6-year term so they would not have the pressure of running for election in just months out or a year out; so they could step back and simply say let's look at the longer view, the larger view.
In my first time here in the Senate, that practice was led by the Democratic leaders and Republican leaders. The majority changed. I came here with a Democratic leader who was eminently fair to the minority and insisted, as did many Members, none more vividly and with emotion and commitment than did Robert Byrd, the Democrat from West Virginia, who probably knew more about procedures and the history of the Senate than all the other Senators combined. Read his volumes.
We would listen to Robert Byrd, respecting how he respected this institution. I experienced under Robert Byrd, then Republican Bob Dole, and then Tom Daschle, Democrat, Trent Lott, Republican--I experienced respect for the rights of the minority even though I was in the majority. They were sacrosanct. No one stood up and said let's take those rights away. Those who did were shot down by their own party. Our party made an attempt at that. Sense and reason prevailed. It was imposed by those who had been here, saying you need to understand the unique role of the Senate that has been created by our Founding Fathers, enshrined in the Constitution, 225 years of tradition and history.
To have the majority leader, the Senator from Nevada, come here and say we are taking that away, what we had promised to do; that is, keep the rules--we are going to break them and we are going to impose on you because you are dragging out the time it takes to secure nominations. We are going to impose on you. We are going to take away your minority rights and we are going to rule by majority.
As I said, I understand the frustration that must have been felt on the other side of the aisle when Members would delay the confirmation of nominees. Why were Republicans doing that? They were doing that because the majority leader was using a technique to deny us amendments on any number of bills.
[[Page S9065]] Everyone here has constituent interests, their own interests. They come to the Senate, they want to move forward with an agenda. When you are in the minority you know that the chances of passing that are slim unless you get support from the other side. That is why we cosponsor with Democrats when we want to try to move something, to see if they can convince their Members to join us. That is the way this place has always worked.
But under the process of the so-called filling of the tree--I know people in the world say what in the world are you talking about, filling the tree? It is a procedural method which denies the minority the right to offer amendments. I do not have the statistics in front of me, but the majority leader has imposed that time after time. So the frustration just kept building here, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, of Members who said: I came to the Senate. I don't have a voice. I do not have the ability to even bring up my amendment.
What are we afraid of, taking a vote? If you cannot take a vote and go home and explain your vote to people, then you should not be here. You vote for what you believe in. You vote for what you think your State and your constituents who sent you here believe in. Some you win, some you lose, but at least you have the opportunity to make your case.
So, month after month, year after year, under the leadership of Senator Reid, increasingly that right has been taken away. The frustration boils up from our feeling like--forget it. Forget 225 years of history. Forget how the Founding Fathers decided to structure this democratic function. Forget how past leaders, Republicans and Democrats, held this as sacrosanct, a right for the minority, the minority voice.
Here is the party that says we got elected by a majority and therefore the minority has no say. Those who have not served in the minority will not understand the denial of the right to express your view and have it put before this body for a vote. You can get up and talk about it but you cannot get it to a vote, so talk is cheap. Until they experience that, I am afraid, they will not have an understanding of how we need to get back to what this body was intended to be.
I want my colleagues who have imposed this in support of the majority leader's tactics of denying Members the ability to offer an amendment regardless of what it is for--I want my colleagues to understand that is where the frustration came from. And that is why we are trying to use whatever rules we have left to send the message that you are stiffing us. You are denying us the very right that we worked so very hard to come to have here.
I am making a plea, I guess, that we sit down and have an adult conversation about how to make this place more efficient, how to make it more effective but do so in a way that allows the minority the right to participate in the process.
Going through the exercise we have gone through for the last few weeks with votes every 2 hours, sleeping on cots in our office or sleeping on the couch, coming down here in the middle of the night to vote--if we are talking about something serious for the country that needs that kind of debate, I am not saying we shouldn't do that. If it is a defense bill or a critical issue, such as a fiscal issue or a foreign policy issue, that is what this place is all about. If it takes us well into the night on something substantive like that, then we want to preserve that. But it is over the nomination of a district judge-- and the statistics show that the majority party has virtually gotten every one they wanted.
Just recently the Republicans said that somehow we have to send a message that we are being shut out, and we were shut out by a majority vote of the Democratic Party which basically told Republicans: Forget the history. Forget the past. Sit down. You have no role.
I hope we can get back from that because it is so important for the future of this country to have a deliberative body that has the time and opportunity to debate, to offer amendments, and to fashion legislation in a bipartisan fashion. Maybe we have learned that lesson; maybe we haven't. There is a lot of rancor here right now.
I am glad we came to an agreement to have two votes at 11:15 this evening, and then we will move the process to six votes tomorrow morning, and then we will be able to go home and enjoy Christmas with our families.
I think the solution to this is not to throw daggers at each other but to sit down and think things through. Maybe we need to reach back to some of the writings of Robert Byrd. Maybe we need to reach back to some of the stirring words that were spoken by the majority telling their own Members: Don't go there. You are taking away the very essence of the U.S. Senate.
One of the Members on the Democratic side who has many years of experience here--many more than I--made that plea. Unfortunately, it wasn't listened to by Members in his caucus. I think if we could step back and we could look at the history of those in the majority doing everything they could to protect the rights of those in the minority, we would recognize that there is a better way to go forward than what we have done here.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.