Floor Statements

“Mr. President, I will be opposing cloture on the nominations of Melvin Watt to be the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration, and Patricia Millett to be a U.S. Circuit Court Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit. And, I do so having worked for many years to negotiate agreements to end gridlock in the Senate and secure votes on nominees who were being filibustered.

“Numerous times over the years, the Senate has come to a standstill over nominees – whether they were judicial or executive branch. That gridlock inevitably leads to threats from the Majority to use the ‘nuclear option’ – basically changing the Rules of the Senate to strip the Minority party of their right to filibuster certain nominees. I opposed using the nuclear option back when my party had the majority, and I oppose it today.

“I have been privileged several times to be a part of a groups of Senators who were able to come together and negotiate agreements to end the gridlock surrounding nominees, avert the nuclear option, and allow the Senate to move forward with our work on behalf of the American people. My work in these groups – often referred to as ‘gangs’ – has won me both praise and condemnation, and has often put me at odds with some in my own party.

“In 2005 for instance, I joined 13 of my colleagues in an agreement that allowed for votes on three of President Bush’s judicial nominees who were being filibustered by the Democrats – who were in the minority at that time.  Part of that agreement addressed future nominees.  It stated:

 ‘Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.’

“As to both of the nominees we consider today, I find that extraordinary circumstances exist. So, in keeping with the letter and spirit of agreements that I, myself, helped negotiate and exercising my discretion under those agreements, I oppose the Watt and Millett nominations today. My colleagues in the Majority are mistaken if they assume that these agreements mean that we, the Minority party, have surrendered our right to filibuster nominees in certain circumstances. The exact opposite is true. These agreements were negotiated precisely to protect the rights of the Minority to filibuster nominations in good faith where the Minority finds that doing so is warranted under the circumstances.

“I am disappointed to hear that some of my colleagues on the other side are once again threatening use of the ‘nuclear option.’ I would argue that our side, led by Senator McConnell, has been very accommodating in helping to secure cloture on numerous nominees. The fact that we are exercising our rights in these two instances should not deter from that fact, and is certainly not deserving of a retaliatory threat. 

“I have worked to end the stalemates over nominees, not for praise or publicity, but to retain the rights of the minority, and to help return the Senate to the early practices of our government and to reduce the rancor and distrust that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate. I would hope the Majority would recognize this fact, and refrain from threatening the use of the nuclear option.”