tv U.S. Senate Confirms Jeff Sessions Takes Up Tom Price Nomination CSPAN February 8, 2017 10:30am-12:31pm EST
admire our two senators for making those statements. i cannot overstate the fearfulness -- fearful message that president trump is sending by pursuing this ban on muslim immigration. last night our colleague, the senior senator from massachusetts, was silenced for sharing a letter from coretta scott king. if we cannot make a distinction between talking about a fellow senator from a person who is a nominee that we must confirm, then the rule that shuts down debate should be called a gag rule. over the last two months, i've heard from thousands of my constituents and a number of prominent civil rights organizations, including a number who testified at jeff sessions' hearing, questioning his nomination. so i will vote against the nomination of jeff sessions to serve as attorney general because i am deeply concerned about how he would use his prosecutorial discretion to uphold voting rights, protect
civil rights and safeguard a woman's right to choose. and i am seriously concerned about jeff sessions' willingness to say no to the president when he needs to. i yield the floor. mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from hawaii. ms. hirono: i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
mr. sanders: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from vermont. mr. sanders: mr. president, i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. sanders: mr. president, i want to say a few words about the sessions nomination for attorney general, but i also want to express my very strong opposition to senator mcconnell's effort to deny senator elizabeth warren the opportunity to express her point of view. and there are two separate issues. number one, this is the united states senate, and the american people expect from us a vigorous debate on the important issues
facing this country. and i think all of us are aware that issues of civil rights, issues of voter suppression, issues of criminal justice reform are enormous issues that people from one end of this country feel very strongly about. and those are issues that the next attorney general of the united states will be dealing with. so clearly we need a vigorous discussion regarding the qualifications of president trump's nominee, jeff sessions, to be attorney general. we need to hear all points of view. and the idea that a letter and a statement made by coretta scott king, the widow of martin luther king jr., at the united states -- a letter that she
wrote could not be presented and spoken about here on the floor of the senate is, to me, incomprehensible, and it comes at a time when we have a president who has initiated -- and i hope it will not stand -- a ban on muslims entering the united states of america. we have a president who refers to a judge who issues a ruling in opposition to the president as a so-called judge, which tells every judge in america that they will be insulted and marginalized by this president if they dare to disagree with him. i was under the impression we had three separate branches of government: congress, the president and the judiciary. equal branches, not to be insulted because one branch disagrees with another branch. and here we are now on the floor
of senate, and one of our outstanding senators, senator warren of massachusetts, brings forth a statement made by one of the heroines, one of the great leaders of the civil rights movement of the united states of america, a statement that she made before the senate judiciary committee on march 13, 1986. and anyone who knows anything about coretta scott king understands this is not a vicious woman. this is not a woman who stood up and fought for civil rights, for dignity, for justice, for her whole life. and yet when senator warren read her statement, she was told that she could no longer participate in this debate over senator sessions' nomination, which i regard as an outrage. and i want the american people to make a decision on whether or
not we should be able to look at senator sessions' record and hear from one of the heroines of the civil rights movement. and this is a statement made before the senate judiciary committee on thursday, march 13, 1986. and this is what the statement is about. let the american people judge. and this is how it goes. mr. chairman and members of the committee -- this is from coretta scott king. thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my strong opposition to the nomination of jefferson sessions for federal district judgeship for the southern district of alabama. my long-standing commitment which i shared with my husband, martin, to protect and enhance the rights of black americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process compels me to testify today. civil rights leaders, including my husband and albert turner
have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. mr. sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. this simply cannot be allowed to happen. mr. sessions' conduct as u.s. attorney from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge. the voting rights act was and still is vitally important to the future of democracy in the united states. i was privileged to join martin and many others during the selma to montgomery march for voting rights in 1965. martin was particularly impressed by the determination to get the franchise of blacks
in selma and neighboring perry county as he wrote -- quote -- "certainly no community in the history of the knee grow struggle -- negro struggle has responded with the enthusiasm of selma and the neighboring town of marriott where birmingham depended largely upon students and unemployed adults to participate in nonviolent protests of the denial of the franchise, selma has involved 10% of the negro population in active demonstrations and at least half the negro population of marion was arrested on one day." end of quote. martin was referring, of course, to a group that included the defendants recently prosecuted for assisting elderly and illiterate blacks to exercise that franchise. in fact, martin anticipated from the depth of their commitment 20 years ago that a united political organization would remain in perry county long after the other marchers had left.
this organization, the perry county civic league, started by mr. turner, mr. hogue, and others as martin predicted continued -- quote -- to direct the votes and other rights. end of quote. in the years since the voting right was passed, black americans in marion, selma and elsewhere have made important strides in their struggle to participate actively in the electoral process. the number of blacks registered to vote in key southern states has doubled since 1965. this would not have been possible without the voting rights act. however, blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process, particularly in the south. efforts continue to be made to deny blacks access to the polls, even where blacks constitute the majority of the voters. it has been a long uphill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote.
a person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws and, thus, to the exercise of those rights by black people should not be elevated to the federal bench. the irony of mr. sessions' nomination is that if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing what a federal prosecution, what the local sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods. 20 years ago when we marched from selma to montgomery, the fear of voting was real as the broken bones and bloody heads in selma and marion bore witness. as my husband wrote at the time -- quote -- it was not just a slick imagine nation that conjured up the vision of a public official sworn to uphold the law, who forced an march upon hundreds of children, who ordered james bevel to be changed to his sick bed, who
clubbed a negro woman and who callously inflicted repeated brutalities and intigty upon nonviolent negros petitioning for their constitutional rights to vote. free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to american democracy that we cannot tolerate any form of infringement of those rights. of all the groups who have been disenfranchised in our nation's history, none has struggled longer or suffered more in the attempt to win the vote than black citizens. no group has had access to the ballot box denied so persistently and intently. over the past century, a broad array of schemes have been used in attempts to block the black vote. the rangef techniques developed with a purpose of repressing black voting rights run the gamut from the straightforward application of brutality against black citizens who tried to vote to such legalized frauds as -- quote -- gran father clause --
grandfather clause -- end of quote, exclusions and literacy tests. the actions taken by mr. sessions represent just one more technique used to intimidate black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise. the investigations into the absentee voting process were conducted only in the black belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political pow whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years without incident. then when blacks realizing its strength began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun. in these investigations, mr. sessions as u.s. attorney exhibited an eagerness to bring to trial and convict three leaders of the perry county civic league, including albert turner despite evidence clearly demonstrating their innocence of
any wrongdoing. furthermore, in initiating the case, mr. sessions ignored allegations of similar behavior by whites choosing instead to chill the exercise of the franchise by blacks by his misguided investigation. in fact, mr. sessions sought to punish all of the black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960's. these were persons who rrmsing the -- realizing the potential of the absentee vote among blacks had learned to use the process within the bounds of legality and had taught others to do the same. the only sin they committed was being too successful in gaining votes. the scope and character of the investigations conducted by mr. sessions also warn grave concern. witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government's case.
also, the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses. witnesses who did testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the quote, unquote -- correct testimony. many elderly blacks were visited multiple times by the f.b.i. who then hold them over 180 miles -- hauled them over 180 miles by bus to mobile where they could more easily have testified at a grand jury 20 miles away in selma. these voters and others have announced they are now never going to vote again. i urge you to consider carefully mr. sessions' conduct in these matters. such a review i believe raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all american citizens and consequently his fair and unbiased judgment regarding this fundamental right. when the circumstances and facts surrounding the indictments of
al turner, his wife, evelyn, and spencer hogue are analyzed, it becomes clear that the motivation was political and the result frightening, the wide scale chill of the exercise of the ballot for blacks who suffered so much to receive that right in the first place. therefore, it is my strongly held view that the appointment of jefferson sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband al turner and countless others who risk their lives and freedom over the past 20 years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system. the exercise of the franchise is an essential means by which our citizens ensure that those who are governing will be responsible. my husband called it the number one civil right. the denial of access to the ballot box ultimately results in the denial of other fundamental rights. for it is only when the poor and disadvantaged are empowered that
they are able to participate actively in the solutions to their own problems. we still have a long way to go before we can say that minorities no longer need to be concerned about discrimination at the polls. blacks, hispanics, native americans, and asian americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in america. if we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the voting rights act of 1965 and the 15th amendment of the constitution is honored. the federal courts hold a unique position in our constitutional system, ensuring that minorities and other citizens without political power have a forum in which to vindicate their rights. because of this unique role, it is essential that the people selected to be federal judges respect the basic tenets of our
legal system, respect for individual rights and a commitment to equal justice for all. the integrity of the courts and thus the rights they protect can only be maintained if citizens feel confident that those selected as federal judges will be able to judge with fairness others holding differing views. i do not believe jefferson sessions possesses the requisite requirement, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. based on his record, i believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in alabama but also on the prg we have made -- progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over 20 years ago. i, therefore, urge the senate judiciary committee to deny his confirmation. i thank you for allowing me to share my views.
that is the letter that coretta scott king, one of the great leaders of our civil rights movement, along with her husband and many others finally managed to get passed the voting rights act of 1965. that's it. that is the letter that senator elizabeth warren wanted to communicate to other members of the senate as part of the discussion as to whether or not jeff sessions should become our next attorney general. so let me say that i will vote against jeff sessions for a number of reasons, but the idea that in the united states senate the same exact letter that i
just read and the american people have heard it, was there some kind of vicious personal attacks? this is a letter written by one of the leaders of the civil rights movement expressing strong concerns about jeff sessions before the judiciary committee in 1986. opposing his nomination to be a federal judge. and yet elizabeth warren, senator elizabeth warren, one of our leading senators, was denied the right to read that letter to inform fellow senators and the american people. i think leader mcconnell owes senator warren an apology, and i believe that it is unconscionable and outrageous that senator warren not be allowed to participate in the discussion about whether jeff sessions becomes our next attorney general.
there is a great fear in this country right now starting at the white house where we have a president who has issued a ban on muslim visitors coming into this country. there is a fear that we have a president who denigrates a judge, as a so-called judge because this judge issued an opinion in disagreement with the president, that we are moving in a direction which is un-american, which is moving us toward an authoritarian society. we pride ourselves as a nation because when we have differences of opinion, we debate those differences. we tolerate differences of opinion. that's what democracy is about in our country. that's what freedom of speech is about. and that is what debate is about here in the united states
senate. so i'm going to vote against jeff sessions to become our next attorney general, but i am even more alarmed about the decision of the majority leader here in the senate to deny one of our leading senators the right to voice her opinion, the right to put into the "congressional record" what i have just said. and if mr. mcconnell or anybody else wants to deny me the right to debate jeff sessions' qualifications, go for it. but i'm here. i will participate in debate. i will oppose jeff sessions. and i think senator warren is owed an apology. with that, mr. president, i yield and i ask unanimous consent to enter into the record the statement of coretta scott king. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mr. warner: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from virginia. mr. warner: first of all, mr.
president, let me thank my colleague, the senator from vermont, for his statement, and remarkably the events of the last 24 hours, senator warren's comments, now your comments and others and the fact that senator warren afterwards went out using social media medium has now reached as of this morning more than five million americans. out of every challenge comes an opportunity, and the opportunity to make sure more americans heard the very powerful words and her rationale against senator sessions, i think was very important. so i thank him for his work on this and so many other things. mr. president, i also rise today to voice my concerns about senator jeff sessions nomination to serve as u.s. attorney general. while i respect senator sessions' decision to spend his
career in public service, i cannot and will not support his nomination. i also rise to raise the concerns of thousands of my constituents who have contacted me about senator sessions. these virginians worry about what his confirmation would mean for the rights of all virginians and all americans. senator sessions' long record of opposing bipartisan, commonsense policies relating to voting rights, antidiscrimination, domestic violence and criminal justice reform leads me to conclude that he is not the right person to serve as attorney general. i'd like to take a couple of minutes -- and i know i've got my friend, the senator from minnesota, coming after me -- to talk about five areas of concern that i have with his nomination. first, voting rights. in 2013, the supreme court ruled in shelby county v. holder to gut a key section of the
voting rights act. senator sessions applauded that decision, which has already eroded voter access and protection in several states once covered by the previous provisions of the voting rights act. those states include the commonwealth of virginia. however, he has failed to support important legislation that would restore those protections. the bipartisan legislation, the voting rights act amendment advancement act was introduced last congress and would serve to once again protect our nation's hard-fought equal access to the ballot. i was proud to cosponsor this bill and remain committed to working with my colleagues to put a fair process in place that ensures our elections are open to all. senator sessions unfortunately opposes this legislation. the second area is nondiscrimination. i also have concerns about senator sessions' record on a broad range of antidiscrimination policies. he was one of only four senators to oppose an amendment in the
judiciary committee that would have reaffirmed the principle that the united states does not discriminate against immigrants on the basis of religion and -- an issue that has rearisen by the president's action. he opposed the employment nondiscrimination act which codifies protection for lgbtq americans and denied the reality that too many of our lgbtq neighbors still face discrimination and hatred every day. while nearly two-thirds of the senate voted for the matthew shepard and james byrd hate crimes prevention act in 2009, senator sessions stated that -- quote -- "i am not sure that women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. i just don't see it." unquote. from opposing the dream act to opposing repeal of don't ask, don't tell, senator sessions' views are outside the mainstream
third area is the violence against women. in 2013, senator sessions voted against reauthorizing the violence against women act. this landmark legislation originally drafted in 1994 provides crucial protections and resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. in 2013 the reauthorization bill updated those programs within the department of justice and extended resources and protections to additional populations such as those in same-sex relationships. that bill passed with the support of a large bipartisan majority in the senate including a majority of the republican caucus. however, senator sessions opposed the entire bill due to concerns about one provision in the legislation related to domestic violence against indians on tribal lands. we in the senate have all had on occasion been faced with
legislation that contains one or more provisions we have concerns about or would not have included in the legislation. yet, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can attest that we very often strike compromise to get important legislation over the finish line. oftentimes a sign of a good bill is often whatnot one of us gets -- not one of us gets 100% of what we may have wanted. opposing a much broader commonsense and bipartisan bill meant to reduce violence and domestic -- to reduce violence and protect domestic violence victims calls into question senator sessions' commitment to administering these programs at the department of justice. the fourth area is sentencing reform. there is broad bipartisan recognition in the senate that our broken criminal justice system is badly in need of reform. likewise, there is bipartisan support for updating outdated
statutes that tie judges' hands and often force them to hand down overly punitive mandatory minimum sentences. yet, last year senator sessions again was one of only five republicans on the judiciary committee to vote against this bipartisan criminal justice reform which i'm a proud cosponsor. the sentencing reform and corruptions act. -- and corrections act. there is overwhelming support in this body and the american people for reforming a broken justice system and giving thousands of americans a second chance to be productive members of society. i believe that senator sessions' views on criminal justice are at odds with the -- with what the american people want and at odds with the basic principles of fairness and equality under the law that are supposed to be the hallmarks of our nation's justice system. finally, on the question of independence, i'm concerned that senator sessions won't be sufficiently independent to
execute the responsibilities of the attorney general effectively. during this job -- doing this job the way our founding fathers intended requires a certain level of impartiality to fully and independently enforce our laws and protect the rights of the disenfranchised. senator sessions has said that achieving this level of neutrality means saying no to the president sometimes. this is one area which i agree with my colleague and very much want to take him at his word. however, given his vocal partisan support for president trump and his refusal to commit in his confirmation hearing to fully enforce certain laws, i'm not convinced that senator sessions is fully prepared to faithfully execute this new set of responsibilities with the amount of independence that the job demands. again, i stress that the main duties of serving as attorney general, including enforcing our nation's laws, and by doing
so protecting the civil rights of all americans, that is the basic tenet of being attorney general. given senator sessions' long record of opposing many of these fundamental laws that protect civil rights and equality for all, i have grave concerns about him fulfilling and taking this position. for these reasons, i'm unable to support senator sessions' nomination to be attorney general, and i encourage my colleagues to take these concerns under consideration as we move forward to a final vote on this nomination. mr. president, i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from minnesota. mr. franken: thank you, mr. president. i rise in opposition to the nomination of senator jeff sessions to serve as our nation's next attorney general. the united states attorney general has a job like none other. our nation's top law enforcement
officer doesn't just enforce the laws designed to protect national security and keep the public safe, but also the laws designed to protect americans' civil rights and civil liberties. the laws that guarantee each and every american access to the same opportunities and to participate fully in our democracy. now, i know senator sessions. he and i have served on the judiciary committee together since i joined the senate back in 2009, and i have a good relationship with senator sessions. and i respect him as a colleague. but as anyone who has observed senator sessions or me in a judiciary committee hearing
could probably tell you, he and i have very different views about many of the issues that he stands to influence as attorney general, particularly matters of equal justice. so once the president announced his nomination, and after senator sessions submitted his materials to the committee, i reviewed his back ground carefully, and i paid special attention to how he described his work on civil rights. and i noticed some discrepancies in the way he described his involvement in civil rights cases filed during his time as u.s. attorney. those discrepancies stood out to me, and they didn't just stand out because civil rights is an issue that i care about personally or because it's an issue that i know senator
sessions and i have disagreed about in the past. the discrepancies caught my attention because the information seemed to misrepresent the nominee's record, and that's something that senator sessions himself promised not to do. you see, back in 2009, when senator sessions became the ranking member of the judiciary committee, he was interviewed about how he would approach the committee's work in general and nominations in specific. senator specter, who was serving as the ranking quintet, had just changed -- ranking republican at the time had just changed his party affiliation to join the democrats and so the gavel passed to senator sessions. some people, particularly on my side of the aisle, were anxious about how senator sessions would
lead the committee's republicans given his more conservative views. but during that interview with the national review, senator sessions indicated that democrats should expect him to be an honest broker and to be fair to democratic nominees. senator sessions cited his experience before the judiciary committee back in 1986, when president reagan nominated him to serve on the federal bench. the committee rejected his nomination then, and senator sessions felt that in doing so, the committee had distorted his record. he said that -- quote -- "what i learned in that process is that we're not going to misrepresent any nominee's record and we're not going to lie about it." unquote. senator sessions said that as ranking member, nominees before
the committee would, quote, be -- quote -- "entitled to explain the charges against them. that doesn't mean i will accept their explanation or agree with it." unquote. in my view, that seemed like a fair way to conduct the committee's business. when i set about the task of revealing senator sessions' records and the materials that he provided to the committee, i expected that those materials would not misrepresent his record. i took him at his word. so when i noticed discrepancies regarding the nominee's record, i gave senator sessions an opportunity to explain them. i asked him about his claim to have filed 20 or 30 desegregation cases, a claim he made in that same 2009 national
review interview. in response, senator sessions said -- and this is a quote from the committee hearing. he said -- quote -- "the records do not show that there were 20 or 30 actually filed cases." he said of the claim -- quote - "the record does not justify it." unquote. i then moved on to question him about four cases that he had listed on his committee questionnaire, which asked him the -- quote -- ten most significant litigated matters he personally handled, personally handled. among those ten cases were voting rights cases and a desegregation case. now, i know senator sessions and
i know his record on voting rights. he is no champion of voting rights. he has called the voting rights act intrusive and complained about states with a history of discrimination being subject to preclearance. but here his questionnaire seemed to tout his involvement in three voting rights cases and one desegregation case. it seemed to me that given his previous experience before this committee and given the concern the civil rights community had expressed about his nomination, that it had been the transmission team or others managing senator sessions' nomination had attempted to revise some of his history and recast him as a civil rights champion. so i questioned senator sessions about the questionnaire's claim
of personally handling those four civil rights cases. i mentioned that the department of justice attorneys who have worked on three of those four cases wrote an op-ed stating that senator sessions had had no substantive involvement in those cases. two of those attorneys also submitted testimony to that effect, explaining that senator sessions had no personal involvement in some of the cases that he had listed among the top ten matters that he had personally handled. i asked senator sessions about this. in my view, he deserved an opportunity to explain himself. i asked him whether these attorneys had distorted his record by stating that with regard to three of those four
cases -- quote -- "we can cat gore ignorely -- we can state categorically that sessions had no substantive involvement in any of them." unquote. and senator sessions said yes, he believed that they were distorting his record. he said that he had supported the attorneys and that he had signed the complaints that they had brought. now, senator sessions' replied mirrored an answer he had given in a supplement to his initial questionnaire. in that supplement, which he filed two weeks after his initial questionnaire, the nominee clarified that his role was to -- quote -- provide support for d.o.j.'s attorneys. he said that he -- quote -- provided assistance and guidance
-- unquote -- and -- quote -- cooperated -- unquote -- with d.o.j. lawyers. not quite personally handled, if you ask me, and i suspect that's why he felt the need to file the supplement. it's also worth noting that all four of the civil rights cases at issue, the ones at issue here had either concluded or were still active back when senator sessions first appeared before the judiciary committee in 1986. but 30 years ago when he submitted his questionnaire, which also asked him to list the -- quote -- ten most significant litigated matters which he personally handled -- unquote -- senator sessions did not list a single one of these four cases,
not a single one. i wonder what changed between 1986 and now that caused these four civil rights cases to take on new significance for the nominee. look, the fact of the matter is that senator sessions did not personally handle the civil rights cases that his questionnaire indicates he personally handled. his questionnaire overstates his involvement in these cases. and the supplement he filed makes that perfectly clear. as i said in the judiciary committee, senator sessions would not have tolerated that kind of misrepresentation, and no member of this body should
either. as senator sessions said back in 2009 -- quote -- "we're not going to misrepresent any nominee's record. they will be entitled to explain the charges against them. it doesn't mean i will accept their explanation or agree with it," he said and neither do i. the united states senate has an important job to do. it requires that each and every one of us understand the nominee's record accurately. the duties and responsibilities of our nation's top law enforcement officer demand that the president nominate an individual who puts country before party and who is willing to pursue justice for the most vulnerable among us.
but i do not have confidence that a nominee whose submissions to the judiciary committee inflate and exaggerate his handling of the critical issues, issues like protecting the right to vote is frankly capable of pursuing equal justice under the law. i question senator -- i questioned senator sessions about voting rights during his hearing. i asked him about an extraordinary claim by the then-president-elect. in late november, president-elect trump tweeted, and i will quote here -- "in addition to winning the electoral college in a landslide, i won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."
let me repeat that. the millions of people who voted illegally. now, let's be clear. president trump lost the popular vote by 2.86 million votes, the popular vote. he is the president. he is the president of the united states. but he lost the popular vote by 2.86 million votes. and when he says i won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally, he is saying that at least 2.86 million people voted illegally. that's a pretty extraordinary charge. so i asked senator sessions during his hearing do you agree with the president-elect that millions of fraudulent votes have been cast, and he responded
-- quote -- "i don't know what the president-elect meant or was thinking when he made that comment or what facts he may have had to justify his statement." unquote. senator sessions didn't say whether he agreed. i asked him whether he had talked to the president-elect about the issues, about that issue. senator sessions said -- quote -- "i have not talked to him about that in depth." unquote. now, the department of justice under the attorney general's leadership and direction is tasked with protecting the right to vote and with prosecuting fraud, so it seems unusual to me that the president-elect would make such an outrageous claim
backed with no evidence, asserting that a fraud of truly epic proportion had occurred and that he wouldn't bother to discuss it with the man nominated to lead the justice department. nor that the man tasked to head the justice department wouldn't ask him about it. and ask what his evidence was. so that when he became attorney general he could prosecute this voter fraud. but in my questioning, none of this seemed to bother senator sessions. and i suppose that shouldn't come as a surprise, because another thing that didn't seem to bother senator sessions was the speed with which states
previously covered by the voting rights act, covered by preclearance, that those states moved to restrict voting rights after the supreme court's shelby county decision. he and i discussed this at his hearing. i point out that after shelby county, states moved quickly to enact new restrictions, but he didn't seem concerned. we discussed north carolina, which enacted restrictions at the fourth circuit eventually described as targeting african-americans with -- quote -- almost surgical precision. targeting them, african-americans, with almost surgical precision to make it harder for them to vote, to suppress their vote.
and which suppressed african-american votes in the 2014 election. so this has happened. but it didn't seem to bother senator sessions. all he said was -- quote -- "every election needs to be managed closely, and we need to ensure that there is integrity in it, and i do believe we regularly have fraudulent activities occur during election cycles." now, let's be clear -- claims of apocryphal voter fraud are used to justify voter suppression. claims of bogus fraud are exactly what states cite when they enact laws designed to keep certain people from voting. so understand senator sessions'
views on voting rights and understanding how he responded to the president-elect's outrageous claims of fraud, and is there anyone here in this body who doesn't believe that the president's claims are outrageous? and indeed pernicious? keeping senator sessions' views on voting rights in mind and understanding how he responded to the president's claims is important to helping us assess whether he is capable of filling one of the attorney general's most important duties. protecting the right to vote.
that's how we all got here. we won elections. that's how the presiding officer, he won election in alaska. fair and square. this is so basic. the fourth circuit ruled that north carolina had surgically targeted african-americans. and because of the shelby decision, the justice department couldn't review that that, couldn't do preclearance, couldn't prevent
african-americans from having their votes suppressed. that should bother us. that should bother every one of us. it really should. we're here. we've had some arguments over the evening. the ones having the arguments were all elected. protecting the franchise is the most basic duty in a democracy. and whose job is that? that's the job of the attorney general. think about how basic and fundamental this is to all the
words that are said here on the floor, they're said by people who won elections. i won an election by 312 votes. every vote is important. and to suppress votes, to surgically target a race of people, how fundamentally wrong is that? it should make us shiver and it should, i would hope, clarify to my colleagues why there is so much fear in this country when a man who is president of the united states says now he says
there are three million to five million votes fraudulently cast. now i wonder how he got three million. could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that he lost the popular vote by 2.86 million? how did he bring that figure out of the air? what are the american people supposed to think when the president makes these laughable claims, based with no fact whatsoever. he told the story about a german golfer in line in florida. remember this, everybody?
he heard this story third-hand. this is his proof to congressional leaders -- to the congressional leadership. i believe senator cornyn was actually there. i think he was part of the group that went there as the leadership of the senate. and the president said that his evidence was, part of his evidence was this story that this german golfer in line had three hispanic people in front of him and three in back. the president then went into conjecture about what latin american countries they could be from and said that but none of them were pulled out of the line. only the german golfer. famous german golfer. he's won some p.g.a. tournaments.
a great golfer. he's not registered to vote in the united states. the story was had i -- the story was hypocro fl. doesn't this send a chin down the spine of -- send a chill down the spine of every one in the senate who cares about the franchise? think about it. this is the fundamental -- this is the fundamental building blk blk -- block of our democracy, the franchise. is now, senator sessions said during his hearing, he believes we regularly have fraudulent activities during our election
cycles. that might explain why he didn't talk with the president-elect in any depth about the now-president's claim that fraudulent, millions of fraudulent votes were cast. perhaps senator sessions didn't find it a large because he believes that there is a kernel of truth in the claim. there's not. that claim has been fact checked to death. nearly 138 million votes were cast in the stoics election. state -- in the 2016 elections. state officials found no fraud or sign of widespread fraud. in 2014, a comprehensive study examined elections over 14 years during which more than one
billion ballots were cast and found just 31 incidents of in-person fraud. but that didn't stop president trump, and everyone let the truth get in the way of a good story, from again claiming that he lost the popular vote and continued to claim it, and asked for investigation. this is so profoundly disturbing i ask my colleagues doesn't it bother you?
now, the president went on to tweet about this major investigation into voter fraud -- all caps -- including those registered to vote in two states. those who are illegal and even those registered to vote who are dead. and then he put in parenthesis, and many for a long time. i know on my death bed, which i hope is many, many years from now. surrounded by my family, my grandchildren and hopefully my great-grandchildren, if they say grandpa, great grandpa, any last wishes? i would say, yes, i want to -- before i leave this mortal -- slip my mortal
coil -- whatever shakespeare said -- i want to make sure that i unregister to vote, because i was a united states senator and i wouldn't want to commit voter fraud. so, please, somebody call the county clerk. i'm too weak to do that. but i want to unregister. because clearly, anyone who doesn't unregister to vote before they die is committing some kind of fraud. and clearly, anyone who's registered to vote in two states is committing fraud. people like steve bannon, sean
spicer, the press secretary; steve mnuchin, treasury secretary-designate; the president's daughter tiffany; son-in-law jared kushner. really should investigate them. the president has said the administration would form a commission led by vice president pence to investigate this voter fraud. this raises serious concerns, not the least of which is whether such an order or commission would serve as a pretext for nationwide voter suppression. and before my colleagues vote on
senator sessions' nomination, we deserve to know whether the president intends for the attorney general or the justice department to lead or participate in these investigations. when the president of the united states lies about the existence of massive, widespread fraud, it's the job of the attorney general to call him on it. it's the job of the attorney general to call him on it. the attorney general has an obligation to tell it like it is senator sessions may have said it best himself. when sally yates was nominated to be the deputy attorney general, senator sessions questioned her during her confirmation hearing. he said -- quote -- "you have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things, and you'll need to say no. do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper?"
a lot of people have defended the lynch nomination, for example, by saying he appoints somebody that's going to execute his views. what's wrong with that? but if the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no? ms. yates responded -- quote -- "senator, i believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the constitution, to give their independent legal advice to the president. and everyone here should agree, that's exactly what ms. yates did last week. i think it was last week. these weeks seem long. the nation owes her a debt of gratitude. she did exactly what senator
sessions asked her if she would do. but, mr. president, i fear that senator sessions has not demonstrated that he's capable of fulfilling that obligation, and his record is demonstrated by the fact that he did not discuss these claims with the president, suggest that he is simply not willing to speak truth to power. it suggests that. now, senator sessions has a long record not just during his time as u.s. attorney and as alabama's attorney general, but here in the united states senate but regardless of the post he held, senator sessions has not exhibited what i would characterize as a commitment to equal justice. you see, in my view, it is the obligation of elected officials and law enforcement officers to recognize injustice when they see it and stand in opposition to it. but on far too many occasions,
it seems that senator sessions has not followed that obligation in 2009, the senate debated the matthew shepard and james byrd jr. hate crimes prevention act. the bill that extended federal hate crimes protections to people targeted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. but in the hearing on that bill, senator sessions said -- and i quote -- "i'm not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination." he said -- quote -- "i just don't see it." unquote. senator sessions repeatedly opposed a bill to reauthorize the violence against women act, or vawa, the landmark law combatting domestic and sexual violence. the bill would have expanded the law to protect lgbt people, native american women, and
immigrant women, but he voted against it three times. he said -- quote -- "there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition." unquote. i -- i raised this with senator sessions prior to his hearing. i pointed out that native women experience an epidemic of sexual and domestic violence, much of it at the hands of non-indians. most of it. that's not a new development. senator sessions said to me that at the time he voted on the issue, he didn't understand the gravity of the problem. he must not have seen it. in 2006, when the judiciary committee held a hearing on reauthorizing the voting rights act, senator sessions said there was -- quote -- little present-day evidence, unquote,
of state and local officials restricting access to the ballot box. he claimed that the voting rights act preclearance requirement unfairly targeted certain states. he said -- quote -- "alabama is proud of its accomplishments, but we have the right to ask why other areas of the country are not covered by it." unquote. now, the voting rights act preclearance requirement forced states with a history of enacting discriminatory measures to get federal approval before changing their voting practices. that's why alabama was subject to preclearance. but he just didn't see it. now, during his hearing in his responses to his written questions, senator sessions has said -- quote -- all americans are entitled to equal protection
under the law, no matter their background, unquote. he has said that, and if confirmed, he said he would -- quote -- enforce the laws passed by congress, unquote. but, mr. president, time and time again, senator sessions has demonstrated an inability to recognize injustice. whether it is discrimination faced by lgbt people, discriminatory barriers to the ballot box or violence against women. and if he can't see injustice, what assurance will we have that he will act to stop it? mr. president, the communities we represent should be confident that the nation's top law enforcement officers capable of recognizing the challenges that they face and will help them
overcome their vote challenges. before the senate moves to confirm this nominee, it's important that we understand whether senator sessions is able or willing to acknowledge those challenges and to take steps necessary to address them and not turn a blind eye. i am not confident that he is, and i will be voting against him, and i would yield the floor. yield the floor. mr. schumer: mr. president, i just note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
mr. schumer: mr. president? the presiding officer: the democratic leader. mr. schumer: i ask unanimous consent that the quorum be dispensed with. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. schumer: well, mr. president, we here in the senate have a tradition of mutual respect among our fellow senators. we have a spirit of comity. it's a tradition i hold in high esteem. last night, that tradition was violated, and the senate went in a very bad direction. my republican colleagues, i believe, were far too zealous in trying to enforce that tradition, and in doing so were guilty of the exact same thing they were trying to police. my friend, the senator from
massachusetts, was reading a letter written by mrs. coretta scott king, the widow of martin luther king jr., to the judiciary committee. her testimony about the nomination of then-judge jeff sessions to be a federal judge. for that, the chair and my friend, the majority leader, interrupted her remarks, invoked rule 19, and forbid her from continuing. the chair directed the senator to take her seat. in my view, it was totally, totally uncalled for. senator warren wasn't hurling wide accusations. she was reading a thoughtful and considered letter from a leading civil rights figure. mr. president, anyone who watches the senate floor on a daily basis could tell you that what happened last night was the
most selective enforcement of rule 19. my friend, the senator from massachusetts, was here when one of her colleagues called the leadership of my dear friend senator reid cancerous and that -- quote -- he doesn't care about the safety of our troops, unquote. that was not enforced as a rule 19 violation. but reading a letter from coretta scott king, that was too much? suggesting that the distinguished majority leader had repeatedly lied to the press, a comment made by a fellow republican, by the way, that was fine. reading the letter of a civil rights icon, at least to the other side, unacceptable. mr. president, just last week, i
heard from a friend on the othee other side of the aisle just last week accuse me of engaging in a tear-jerking performance that belonged at the screen actors guild awards. it was only the second time that week that i had been accused of fake tears on the floor of the senate. i didn't run to the floor to invoke rule 19. but when my friend from massachusetts read a piece of congressional testimony by coretta scott king, she was told to sit down. why was my friend from massachusetts cut off when these other much more explicit, much more direct, much nastier attacks were disregarded? mr. president, there is a shocking double standard here
when it comes to speech, and unfortunately it is not constrained by the four walls of this chamber. while the senator from massachusetts has my republican colleagues up in arms by simply reciting the words of a civil rights leader, my republican colleagues can hardly summon a note of disapproval for an administration that insults a federal judge, tells the news media to shut up, offhandedly threatens a legislator's career and seems to invent new dimensions of falsehood each and every day. i certainly hope that this antifree speech -- anti-free speech attitude is not traveling down pennsylvania avenue to our great chamber, especially,
mr. president, when the only speech being stifled is speech that republicans don't agree with. even speech that is substantive, relevant, on point to the matter this body is considering and appropriate and measured in tone. and i'd make a broader point, mr. president. this is not what america is about. silencing speech, especially in this chamber. what we do here is debate. we debate fiercely and forcefully but respectfully. the founders of the republic, the titans of the early senate, webster, clay, calhoun debated until they were blue in the face. from time to time, they probably had tough words for one another. we're not afraid of tough words
in america. we don't look to censure speech. the rule is only intended to keep senators on the facts, to keep them from making baseless accusations about another's character. my friend from massachusetts was following the letter and the spirit of the rule last night. she was engaging in that tradition of forceful but respectful debate when she was cut off. that is not what the senate is about. that is not what our dear country is about. mr. president, every member on the other side of the aisle ought to realize that what they did to senator warren was selective enforcement. it was the most selective enforcement of a rarely used procedure to interrupt her, to
silence her, and it was the only violation of the spirit of mutual respect and comity in this body that occurred last night. i yield the floor. mr. cornyn: mr. president? the presiding officer: the majority whip. mr. cornyn: mr. president, i would ask the senator from nevada be recognized for as much time as he shall consume, and then i would like to be recognized, i'd ask consent. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. cornyn: i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: majority whip. mr. cornyn: i'd ask consent the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. pursuant to rule 4, paragraph 2, the hour of 12 noon having arrived and the senate having been in continuous session since monday, the senate will suspend for a prayer from the senate chaplain. the chaplain: let us pray. eternal lord god, teach us this day, through all our employments, to see you working
for the good of those who love you. strengthen the hearts of our lawmakers against temptations, and make them more than conquerors in your love. deliver our lawmakers from all dejection of spirit and free their hearts to give you zealous, active, and cheerful service. may they vigorously perform whatever you command, thankfully enduring whatever you have chosen for them to suffer. guard their desires so that they will not deviate from their path of integrity. lord, strengthen them
with your almighty arms to do your will on earth, even as it is done in heaven. we pray in your mighty name. amen. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from nevada. a senator: thank you, madam president. i want to take a few moments to discuss an issue, a different issue but one that's on everybody's mind. that is the status of obamacare.
congress has taken the first step to repeal obamacare. i was in the house of representatives when obamacare was passed into law. i opposed the law five times when i was in the house before it was passed with zero bipartisan, zero republican support and was signed into law by the president. mr. heller: i oppose obamacare because i feared this law would increase costs, make it harder for patients to see a doctor, increase taxes on the middle class, also increase taxes on seniors and hurt the economy. over the last seven years, madam president, all of these fears have become a reality. a new congress and a new administration have heard the people's response loud and clear, and that response is we must repeal obamacare. repealing obamacare means repealing all of the taxes that go with it, not part of them, not some of them, but all of
them. obamacare increased taxes on hard-working americans by $1.1 trillion. higher taxes leads for more money being taken out of the pockets of hard-working families, and health care costs have increased to a degree where i've heard from nevadans across the state at all ages, all backgrounds, all with similar concerns. so what i'd like to do, madam president, is take a moment to read an e-mail that i received just last week from a 13-year-old boy who lives in las vegas. and he said, i wanted to write an e-mail to express my concerns about obamacare and hopefully persuade you to make a change. my family used to have health insurance until obamacare kicked in, forced my family to drop our insurance since it tripled the cost wasn't affordable. we're getting penalized now for not having insurance. think about that. obamacare kicked their family off their insurance by tripling the costs, making it
unaffordable, and then obamacare penalizes that family for not having insurance. going back to the young boy, he said since then we've had medical bills piling up. this is an issue with a lot of people and i don't know a lot about policies, but i do know that something needs to change for the good of the people. and i've heard president president trump say that he will be addressing this issue, and i just hope that you will represent nevada in favor of getting rid of obamacare. well, i can assure my constituents back home in nevada and especially this young man that's advocating for his family that i'm committed to repealing obamacare. this young man's parents had employer sponsored health care coverage that took care of their family when they needed medical care. as a result of obamacare, the costs were just too high to afford the health insurance they had. and one of the biggest drivers of cost increases on the middle class is the 40% excise tax on
the employee benefits -- health benefits better known as the cadillac tax. in nevada 1.3 million workers who have employer-sponsored health insurance plan will be hit by this cadillac tax. these are public employees in carson city. these are service industry workers on the strip in las vegas. these are small business owners and retirees across the state. we're talking about reducing benefits, increased premiums and higher deductibles. when i first started working on this issue, i knew the devastating impact this tax would have on nevadans but also that in order to get anything done, we needed a bipartisan effort to reduce this tax and to eliminate it. so i recruited a good friend, a good friend by the name of senator martin heinrich of new mexico and together we were able to gain huge support on both sides of the aisle. and during the highly partisan reconciliation debate in 2015
where congress successfully delivered an obamacare repeal bill to president obama's desk, senator heinrich and i pushed our colleagues to include our legislation to fully repeal the cadillac tax as an amendment. our amendment passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 90-10. and with this clearly and nearly unanimous vote, we were able to delay the cadillac tax until 2020. so this congress, senator heinrich and i have reintroduced senate bill 58, the middle class health benefit repeal tax act that fully repeals this bad tax. i hope that my senate colleagues on the other side of the aisle will join with senator heinrich on this bipartisan piece of legislation and on this issue to support our bill and get rid of this tax, this cadillac tax once and for all. i know that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will have a lot of differing opinions
on the affordable care act but one thing we can agree on is that the cadillac tax should be fully repealed. and now that we've passed an obamacare resolution, we'll move to the next face of the repeal process. the budget we just passed included reconciliation instructions for the finance committee and the help committee to repeal obamacare. we made a promise to repeal obamacare and now it's time to keep that promise. this includes my legislation to fully repeal the cadillac tax. the goal of health reform should be to lower costs for those who already have health benefits and to expand access to those who do not currently have coverage. obamacare did not achieve either of those two goals. so i'm committed to ensuring that all americans have access to high quality, affordable health care. we must start by repealing the cadillac tax. i want to thank senator heinrich for his continued leadership on this issue. i want to thank him and senator
heinrich continues to put his constituents above politics and i know that he shares my commitment to repeal this bad tax. i also want to thank congressman courtney for their leadership on the house side and i know that we're all eager to work together to get this bill to the finish line. thank you, madam president. i yield to the senior senator from texas. mr. cornyn: madam president? the presiding officer: majority whip. mr. cornyn: madam president, last night we all witnessed a rather extraordinary event, for certain the first time my time in the united states senate we saw rule 19 of the standing senate rules invoked. that rule says no senator in debate shall directly or indirectly by any form of words impute to another senator or to
another -- or other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator. and i certainly agree with the ruling of the chair and the decision of the senate as a body that that line was crossed last night. a senator can't evade that rule by somehow claiming well, these weren't my words. i was reading what somebody else said. and specifically in the case of our former colleague now deceased, senator ted kennedy, claiming that the nominee for attorney general was somehow a disgrace to the justice department and ought to resign. that certainly crossed that line. our colleagues want to point to a letter written by coretta scott king. that was part but not the whole of the speech given by the senator from massachusetts.
so i hope that maybe we've all been chastened a little bit and maybe we've all learned a little bit of a lesson here. i would yearn for the day when the senate and frankly the country as a whole would pull back from the abyss of recrimination, personal attacks, and we would get back to doing what this institution was designed to do, which is to be a great body for deliberation and debate, and that we would treat each other with the civility that we would all want to be treated. and that we're at a pretty challenging time in our nation's history when many people who were surprised and disappointed at the last election are unwilling to accept the results of that election and the verdict of the american people. i can only hope that after the passage of some time they will
return to their senses and they will agree that no one is well served by this race to the bottom in terms of decorum, in terms of rhetoric, in terms of how we treat one another, and that the american people are better served when we treat each other with civility and respect, and that we don't make personal attacks against senators because of the positions that they take. well, this debate over the nomination of senator jeff sessions has taken on some rather unusual twists and turns. i just want to comment just briefly on some of the remarks made by our colleague from minnesota about voting rights, because i think this is exemplary of the way that senator sessions' record on voting rights has been misrepresented. we all know that back in 2006,
those of us who were here in the senate, including senator sessions, including the democratic whip and myself, we all voted to reauthorize the voting rights act. that included section 2 and section 5 which was later struck down. section 2 of course is the provision of the voting rights act that applies to the entire nation, and it authorizes a lawsuit to vindicate voting rights that are jeopardized by some illegal practice. section 5 which was the subject of the decision by the united states supreme court in the shelby county case that was decided in 2013, that was directed not at section 2 which applies to the entire nation but to section 5, which only applied to a handful of jurisdictions around the country. and it was based on voting practices that occurred, existed back in -- in the middle 1960's.
and i'd be the first to admit that the record of vindicating the rights of minority voters back in 1965 is nothing to be proud of. but we've come such a long way in this country and it's been because of the voting rights act. it's been because of our collective commitment to the right of every citizen to vote that i believe those statistics which existed back in the mid-1960's are no longer valid today. in fact, you look at many of the jurisdictions covered back in the 1960's, they have superior records of minority voting, including in places like alabama where senator sessions is from than jurisdictions that are not covered by section 5. how our colleagues across the aisle can somehow condemn senator sessions for the supreme
court's decision in the shelby county case when he voted for the reauthorization of the entire voting rights act, section 2 and section 5 strikes me as extremely misleading. and unfortunate. but it does seem to characterize the nature of the debate about this nominee. i said during his confirmation hearing, i said well, those who don't know senator sessions are interested to learn his record and his resume, but those of us who work with him, we don't need to read his resume. we don't need to hear a recitation of his record. we know the man. we know what's in his heart. and he is a thoroughly decent and honorable member of the united states senate, and he will do an outstanding job, i believe, in restoring the reputation of the department of
justice, as one dedicated to the rule of law above all else. there is always a risk, and this happens in democratic administrations as well as republican administrations, when the attorney general feels like they are an arm of the white house. that's not the job of the attorney general. the president has a lawyer, white house counsel. the attorney general is supposed to have some measure of independence, even though he or she is appointed by the president and serves at the president's pleasure. that's why we ask questions of people like deputy attorney general sally yates, can you tell the president no? well, she said she could, and then you will natalie, unfortunately, in the case of the executive order that was issued by president trump later on, said even though this order was vetted by the office of legal counsel and determined
that this was a legal executive order both in content and in form, she said i still disagree with the president's executive order, and i'm going to order the justice department lawyers not to defend it. well, that's the kind of politics that we need none of in the department of justice. we have got plenty of politicians in this country. we have got plenty of politicians in the congress and in the white house. we don't need another politician as attorney general. in fact, we need a nonpolitician, an apolitician, somebody who believes that their allegiance to the rule of law, irrespective of who is involved, whether it's the president of the united states or it's the least among us. that is what the rule of law is all about. and that's one reason why i feel so strongly that senator sessions will be an outstanding
attorney general because i believe he will restore the department of justice to an institution that believes in and enforces the rule of law above politics, and that is a fundamentally important thing to do. we know senator sessions, as i said earlier, brings a lifetime of relevant experience to this job. former federal prosecutor, former united states attorney for the department of justice. he said those are some of the best years of his life. i once had a colleague who was downstairs on the fifth circuit. when he became a united states district judge in san antonio, he was recalling his days as united states attorney, and he would say -- i still remember this after all these many years -- he would say he has never had a prouder moment in his life than when he appeared in court and he said i'm here
and i'm ready on behalf of the united states of america. senator sessions is here and he's ready to serve the american people as attorney general, and we know from his service at the department of justice, as attorney general of alabama, and now for the past 20 years in the united states senate that he is devoted to the rule of law and keeping our country safe. so it's really been sad to see interest groups vilifying him over and over again, or people mischaracterizing him like they have on his voting rights record things that he is not responsible for after voting to reauthorize the voting rights act in 2006. he didn't decide the shelby county case. this is a man we have worked with for -- some for 20 years, people who have been here that long with him, and we know jeff sessions to be a man who has
dedicated his life to public service. our colleagues across the aisle have offered him an occasional compliment like the democratic leader who once called him straightforward and fair. the assistant democratic leader called him a man of his word. but now the decision to drag out cabinet nominations as long as possible and waste valuable time that could be used on other bipartisan legislation, we know our democratic colleagues have chosen to slow walk the process, and i think it's a shame, particularly in the case of somebody we all know so well and who is dedicated to the department of justice and to restoration of the rule of law. well, several of us have talked from time to time about how the holding up of these nominees is unprecedented. at this point in president obama's term, 21 cabinet members were confirmed. senator sessions, when we vote
on his nomination tonight, he will be number eight. 21-8. you would have to go back to george washington to find a slower confirmation timeline for a new administration. it's just -- there's no good excuse for it, particularly in light of the fact that now under the reid precedent, that our colleagues across the aisle know that all of these nominees, particularly in the case of senator sessions, they will be confirmed. so just holding up the nomination just for delay alone makes no sense at all. well, some have said holding up senator sessions' nomination is somehow similar to the confirmation process for loretta lynch, but that really rings hollow on examination. let me remind them what happened when loretta lynch was nominated as attorney general.
at the time our democratic friends were filibustering a bipartisan bill that later passed 99-0, they were filibustering a bipartisan antitrafficking bill for no good reason. that's my view. they maybe think they had a good reason. i think actually what it had to do with was the hyde amendment and the long-standing limitation on the use of taxpayer funds for abortion that had gone back to roughly 1976. they wanted to eliminate that restriction in this antitrafficking bill. so they refused to consider that legislation which many of them had cosponsored to help thousands of victims of sexual exploitation, slavery and human trafficking find a path to healing and restoration. so the majority leader in an action that i completely endorsed simply said as soon as they would drop the filibuster, that we would move on with the
loretta lynch nomination. they did finally, and we processed her nomination. so in no way with those two situations similar. today our colleagues across the aisle want to keep a new president from surrounding himself with the men and women he selected to help run the country. now, i think if there is one thing that should give people more confidence in the new administration is the quality of the men and women that he's chosen for his cabinet, and i would add vice president pence, somebody we know here, having served 12 years in the house of representatives. so the delay is really for no good reason at all, and with no achievable results. they're not going to be able to block the nomination. but rather, just to try to score political points. and preventing an exemplary nominee from filling an important national security
position, i believe it makes our country less safe. now, i give our colleagues across the aisle some credit for allowing the confirmation of secretary of defense james mattis, general john kelly at the department of homeland security, and finally after a long weekend of mike pompeo as director of the c.i.a. those are essential components of the president's national security cabinet, but it also includes the attorney general of the united states, someone whose nomination has been delayed until we vote on him tonight. the attorney general after 9/11 became more than just a law enforcement officer. he became a counterterrorism official as well, integrally tied with supervision of the f.b.i. to our efforts to protect the american people from terrorists who would kill us or our allies.
so there is really no good excuse for delaying the confirmation of senator sessions, and i'm confident that tonight we will finally do what we should have done done at least three weeks ago in confirming senator sessions as the next attorney general of the united states, and i believe it's past time that we do so. madam president, i yield the floor. mr. durbin: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from illinois. mr. durbin: madam president, i'd like to respond to the statement made by the republican whip, my friend, the senator from texas, senator cornyn. this is day 20 of the trump administration, day 20. not quite three weeks since president trump was sworn in as president of the united states. this evening, at about 7:00 p.m., we will vote on his nominee for attorney general, and so in the first 20 days of
his administration, he will have his attorney general. what the senator from texas failed to relate was the experience we went through not that long ago when president obama wanted to fill the vacancy of the attorney general's office with loretta lynch, a woman who had served as a prosecutor, u.s. attorney, lifelong professional in the department of justice, who went through the regular hearing process in the judiciary committee, was reported from the committee and after she was reported from the committee, she was sent more than 20 additional questions by senator jeff sessions of alabama, more questions. which, of course, she dutifully answered, as she was required to do, and then she was reported to the calendar where she sat for two months, two months vacancy in the attorney general's office. why? was there something substantively wrong or controversial about loretta
lynch? if there happened to be, i never heard it. where then was that argument about national security and leaving the attorney general's spot vacant when it was president obama seeking to fill that spot? well, we didn't hear it at all. in fact, this is the first i have heard, and the senator from texas said oh, it was related to another bill and when that bill was going to be called and it was actually senator reid who was holding it up. i have never heard those theories before. they may be his personally from where i was sitting. and i came to the floor at one point and said what are we waiting for? this woman is eminently qualified. she has been reported by the committee. she answered all the questions. she languishes on a calendar. she wasn't alone in this experience, incidentally. the executive calendar, as the obama presidency ended, was killed with nominees who were held for no obvious reason by the republicans. they had been reported from the committees, they were ready to fill judicial vacancies across
the united states and other posts, and the official position of the republican senators happened to be we're not going to ever let people vote on them because we were hoping and praying we would get a republican president who can fill those same vacancies with people of our political persuasion. that was the reality. it's the same reality that left merrick garland, president obama's nominee to fill the vacancy on the supreme court, languishing for almost one year where the republicans and the leaders in the senate would not give him a hearing or a vote and senator mcconnell came to the floor and said i won't even meet with him. so when i hear these protests now from the republican side about how we're not moving quickly enough on these nominations, we are, and we're moving, i think, in the appropriate way. we are asking hard questions, and i don't subscribe to the position of the senator from texas who preceded me here when
it comes to the voting rights act. i listened as senator sessions of alabama said that he believed that the decision, shelby county versus holder decision was a victory for the south when it ended preclearance of legislation that could have a direct impact on the voting rights of individuals. and i do recall what happened when the federal court took a specific look at north carolina's legislation -- statutes as it related to voting and said the north carolina legislature had with surgical precision in their words found ways to exclude african-americans from voting, not 20 years ago but just a few weeks ago, a few months ago before this last election. this is a critical issue, and it is interesting to me that last night the dustup on the floor involving the senator from massachusetts, senator warren, was about the same issue, the voting rights act.
in a letter sent by coretta scott king to strom thurmond, then-chairman of the senate judiciary committee when senator sessions, before he was senator, was being considered for a federal judgeship. this is what coretta scott king said in the letter, and i'm not going to read the personal and controversial sections that have been pointed out before, but it is critical to what her message happened to be. she said to strom thurmond in a letter about senator sessions moving to the federal bench, she said free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to american democracy that we cannot tolerate any form of infringement of those rights. of all the groups that have been disenfranchised in our nation's history, none has struggled longer or suffered more in the attempt to with the vote than black citizens. no group has had access to the ballot box denied so persistently and intently. it was a critical issueve