08.01.19

Statement On Senate Republicans Breaking Committee Rules to Advance Partisan Trump Immigration Bill

August 1, 2019

Having served on this Committee for over 40 years, half of which as its chairman or ranking member, I think I can say with some authority that the Senate Judiciary Committee is not what it used to be. It’s never been perfect; we’ve always had our fair share of disagreements. But even as this Committee has considered controversial legislation, and been host to passionate debate, it has always respected the rights of the minority.

It is true that over the last 40 years this Committee has violated a rule when considering judicial nominees during three prior markups — Committee Rule IV, protecting the rights of the minority to debate.

All three were done by Republican chairmen to prematurely terminate debate on controversial judicial nominees. All three were serious mistakes, in my view.

Yet this is worse. This Committee has never sunk to a point where the majority is so intent on jamming a partisan bill through the Committee they are willing to disregard any and every rule — as well as even the faintest notion of comity — in the process.

Let me be clear: if the majority is willing to break any rule in order to report this bill today, there are no rules. If the majority can decide at any given moment to ignore the Committee’s rules, precedents, and principles, then this Committee is nothing but a conveyor belt of ultra-partisan ideas. A mindless rubberstamp of partisan politics.

I have a copy of the Committee Rules right here. We adopted them unanimously six months ago. They are largely the same as they were when I first sat on the Committee 40 years ago. I would like to think that they mean something. I would like to think that we could rely on them. But apparently these rules are on the verge of becoming meaningless. We might as well tear them up.

And for what? Why is this Committee so eager to discard our norms and principles? Apparently the answer is for legislation that, at its core, gives the President what he wants in his political war on immigration: it allows for the indefinite detention of immigrant children. It ratchets up the cruelty against desperate families seeking refuge.

This is as partisan and short-sighted as it gets. This is supposed to be the Senate Judiciary Committee, not the Donald Trump Committee. All this for a bill that will never become law. It will never become law because this is not how we get things done around here, and everyone who has been here for any length of time knows that.

If you want to pass a bill on a complex, contentious issue like immigration, the blueprint is what we did in 2013. This Committee followed every rule then, holding multiple hearings and five days of markups. We had 30 hours’ worth of debate. A bipartisan majority of senators supported that bill both here in Committee and on the Senate floor. If we replicated that process today, I believe we could replicate the results.

We all agree on the need for a safe and secure border. We all agree that there is a humanitarian crisis. Democrats stand ready to work with Republicans in good faith to solve these issues. But by proceeding in this partisan fashion, I fear no one can say the same of our Republican friends.

For anyone who may argue that there’s justification and equivalence in this: No, there is not. We are seeing a calculated, steady assault on Senate prerogatives. An assault on the practices, and now even on the very rules of this Committee, which we have never seen before.

As chairman of this Committee, I never once broke a Committee rule. Since its founding, this body has operated on the principle that civil debate and resolution of competing philosophies require rules. Indeed, a core function of this body’s constitutional responsibility is to pass judgement on those who will interpret the rule of law. If we so casually disregard the rules that apply to our own proceedings, it is the height of irony. It is winning by any means necessary, and it reveals just how little we care about either the past or the future of this storied Committee.

Someday the partisan winds will change direction. The shoe will be on the other foot. I would encourage my Republican colleagues to look at what they are gaining by trampling on this Committee’s rules and precedents. And I would ask them whether this bill — which, as written, will never become law — is worth it. And whether doing this President’s bidding is worth it.

You all know where I stand. I will oppose any efforts to disregard our Committee rules here today. This Committee still means so much to me. I plan to do what I can to protect it.

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