Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: The Senate's constitutional role of "advice and consent"

February 14, 2013 - February 14, 2013

Probably the best known function of the Senate--constitutional responsibility--is the right of advice and consent. We take it very seriously. Here that means we have to consider what happens. The Armed Services Committee, upon which I do not have a chance to serve, completed its consideration of Senator Hagel's nomination two days ago. Now it is before the whole body. He is the President's appointee. The President has a right to appoint people in whom he has confidence. But we have a constitutional responsibility to consider the nominee.

   A number of Republican Senators have questions, including the Senator from Arizona, the Senator from South Carolina, that they would like to have answered. I think they are entitled to that. I think if the shoe were on the other foot, and it were a Republican president making a nomination, Democratic senators would say the same thing, “ Give us a reasonable amount of time to consider this nomination on the floor of the Senate.”

   I have a little experience in that myself. The first President Bush nominated me to be U.S. Education Secretary about 20 years ago. I thought I was a fairly noncontroversial nominee, much less important than the Secretary of Defense. But I remember very well, it was 87 days between the time the president announced my nomination and the day on which the Senate unanimously confirmed me.

   There was, at the time, a senator from Ohio named Metzenbaum, who for whatever reason decided the Senate needed more delay to consider my record and my background.

   There is nothing new about this. I would respectfully suggest that the majority leader's motion to cut off debate on Senator Hagel, made two days after his nomination comes to the floor of the Senate, is premature.

   Republican Senators have questions they would like to have answered. I think they are entitled to do that. When we come back from recess, 10 days from now, I think that is sufficient time to consider those questions. I will vote for cloture so we can have an up-or-down vote on the President's nominee for the Secretary of Defense. I think the president is entitled to that but not prematurely.

   I thank the Senator from Arizona for yielding time.

Part II

  Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, with all due respect to the majority leader, this was an unnecessary vote today. The majority leader said: What is a filibuster? I can remember one that wasn't called a filibuster. I can remember when President Bush the first nominated a very noncontroversial University of Tennessee president who had been Governor to be the Secretary of Education of the United States about 20 years ago.

   There was a Democratic Senate at the time, and the Senator from Ohio decided he wanted more time to study the qualifications of the nominee from Tennessee. I was that nominee.

   I thought that was an extraordinary period of time. It was 87 days between the time President Bush announced my nomination and the time the Senate unanimously confirmed me. That was a Cabinet position. I went around to see Senator Warren Rudman to see what I should do. He said, “You don't have any cards. You don't do anything. The Senate has the right to consider, with its constitutional prerogative of advice and consent, the nominees of the President. That is what the Senate is there for.”

   I said, “Warren, how did you get to be a Senator?” He said, “Well, I will tell you a story. President Ford nominated me in 1976 to be on--I believe it was the Federal Communications Commission….” The Senator from New Hampshire, a Democratic senator and a Democratic senate, put a hold on Warren Rudman until Warren Rudman withdrew his nomination.

   The end of the story was that Warren Rudman then ran against that Senator, beat him, and that is how Warren Rudman became a Senator.

   We know what a filibuster is. A filibuster is when one side or the other--which it has a perfect right to do under our system of government--decides to try to kill a nomination by denying 60 votes or to stop legislation by 60 votes. The Democrats have done it on a regular basis when they were in the minority and the distinguished majority leader was one of the most effective persons in the Senate to do so. I presided many times over the Senate when he objected.

   I remember when we were trying to get 60 votes to have a permanent change in the estate law, and we would get up to 57, 58 or 59 and the distinguished majority leader would object.

   What are we doing today? We are doing today exactly what was said when the vote was called. The question was do 60 of us believe it is time to end debate on the nomination of the President to be Secretary of Defense, the leader of the largest military organization in the world, the largest employer in the United States. The Senate Armed Services Committee has reported that recommendation to the Senate 2 days ago--not 10 days ago, not 15 days ago, not 30 days ago, 2 days ago.

   Most of us aren't on the Armed Services Committee. Are we not entitled, are we not entitled to have more than 2 days to consider one of the most important nominations the President has to make without having the distinguished majority leader accuse us of a filibuster? What we do in this body is debate. We debate issues.

   In addition to that, there are a number of people on the Republican side who have asked for information for which they haven't received answers yet.

   In every one of those cases, those are not requests I am interested in. They will not produce answers I need to know. They may be outside the range of questions I think ought to be answered.

   After only two days of a nomination being on the floor, if Republican senators have questions to ask and information to seek, they ought to be allowed to do that. That is what this is about.

   What we have said--and the Democratic leadership knows this--we have talked in good faith through the morning. We have suggested to have this debate when we come back. Instead of two days after the bill was reported to the committee or to the Senate floor, it would be two days plus 10--a couple weeks. It would give us a chance to read the hearings, consider the evidence, ask our questions.

   There were three Senators who came down to the floor today, including the Senator from Arizona and the Senator from South Carolina, who said then we will be ready to vote for cloture. In other words, we will be ready to vote to end debate to do what the Senate should do. Eventually, after a full consideration, we would have an up-or-down vote on a President's nominee for the Cabinet. At least that is my belief, that eventually you should have an up-or-down vote on the President's nominee for the Cabinet.

   It is an unfortunate vote, and it is unfortunate to characterize this as a filibuster. This is a vote by Republicans to say we want more than two days after this nomination comes to the floor to carefully consider it because we have questions. Many have questions, and then most of us believe that after a sufficient time--and, for me, a sufficient time will probably be those 10 days--after those 10 days, it will be time to end debate. It will be time to have a vote and then it will be time to move on to something else.

   I wish to make sure this is properly characterized. This was a motion to close off debate after two days of bringing to the full Senate the President's nomination to lead the largest military organization in the world at a time when Senators had reasonable questions for which they want answers. A vote to extend that until 10 days from now or some other appropriate time after that not only is reasonable, it is in the traditions of the Senate. Such reasonableness has been exercised by Democrats, as well as Republicans throughout the history of the Senate. 

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