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Lautenberg Warned of Coup d'État

May 23, 2005 (EIRNS)—Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) spoke during the Senate debate this evening. Subheads have been added.

Mr. President, the debate bounces back and forth, and we hear the complaints about the change in the system, one that has been in existence for some 200 years. It was formally adopted in the early part of the 20th Century.

I see the fact that the traditions and rules of the Senate are, frankly, in deep jeopardy. The current majority leader is threatening to annihilate over 200 years of tradition in this Senate, by getting rid of our right to extended debate. The Senate that will be here as a result of this nuclear option will be a dreary, bitter, far more partisan landscape, even though it obviously prevents us from operating with any kind of consensus. It will only serve to make politics in Washington much more difficult.

One has to wonder, what happened to the claims that were made so frequently, particularly in the election year 2000, when then-candidate Bush, now President, talked about being a uniter, not a divider? It has been constantly referenced: "I want to unite the American people, not divide them."

With this abuse of power, the majority is about to further divide our Nation with the precision of a sledgehammer.

I want the American people to understand what is going to happen on the floor of the Senate if things go as planned. Vice President Cheney, whom we rarely see in this Chamber, is going to come here for the specific purpose of breaking existing rules for the operation of the Senate. He is going to sit in the Presiding Officer's chair and do something that, frankly, I don't remember in my more than 20 years in the Senate. He could intentionally misstate, if what we hear is what we are going to get, the rules of the Senate.

Think about the irony. Vice President Cheney gets to help nominate Federal judges. Then when the Senate objects to the Administration's choices, he is going to come over here and break our rules to let his judges through. Talk about abuse of power! The Founding Fathers would shudder at the thought of this scenario. It runs counter to the entire philosophy of our Constitution. Our Constitution created a system that they thought would make it impossible for a President to abuse his powers.

Tomorrow, we are going to see what amounts to a coup d'état, a takeover right here in the Senate. The Senate, just like society at large, has rules. We make laws here and we brag about the fact that this is a country of laws. We make laws here and expect Americans to follow them. But now the majority leader wants the Senate to make it easier for the Republican Senators to change the rules when you don't like the way the game is going. What kind of an example does that set for the country? Some may ask, if we don't follow our own rules, why should the average American follow the rules that we make here?

If the majority leader wants to change the rules, there is a legal way to do it. A controversial Senate rule change is supposed to go through the Rules Committee. Once it reaches the full Senate for consideration, it needs 67 votes to go into effect. But rather than follow the rules, Vice President Cheney will break the rules from his position as the Presiding Officer and change the rules by fiat. In other words, we will see an attempt to overthrow the Senate as we know it.

Hopefully, some courageous Senators will step forward, vote their conscience, and put a stop to this once and for all. There are several people who disagree with their leader on the Republican side, and they have expressed their unwillingness to go through with this muscular takeover of the Senate.

The President Is Not a King

It is unbefitting the body. President Bush and the majority leader want to get rid of the filibuster because it is the only thing standing between them and absolute control of our government and our nation. They think the Senate should be a rubberstamp for the President. That is not what our Founders intended. It is an abuse of power, and it is wrong, whether a Republican or a Democrat lives in the White House.

I say to the American people: Please, get past the process debate here. Let's not forget how important our Federal judges are. They make decisions about what rights we have under our Constitution. They make decisions about whether our education and environmental laws will be enforced. They make decisions about whether we continue to have health care as we know it. And sometimes, let us not forget, they may even step in to decide a Presidential election.

The Constitution says the Senate must advise and consent before a President's judicial nominations are allowed to take the bench. It doesn't say advise and relent. It doesn't say consent first and then advise. As Democratic leader Harry Reid recently said: George Bush was elected President, not king.

The Founding Fathers, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, did not want a king. And that is why the Constitution created the Senate as a check on the President's power. With terrible ideas like Social Security privatization coming from the President these days, the American people are thankful that we are here to stop it.

President Bush once famously said: If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.

I am hopeful that President Bush was kidding when he said that. But the President's allies don't seem to be. They want the Senate to simply approve every Bush nominee regardless of the record.

We have confirmed 208 of President Bush's nominees. But there are several we objected to because we believed they were too extreme. They voiced their opinions. This was not based on hearsay. It was based on things they said. They are too extreme to sit on the Federal bench.

The Republican side of the aisle calls this the tyranny of the minority. But in the Senate, who is the minority and who is the majority? When you do the math on the current Senate, you will find that the majority is actually in the minority. The minority is the majority. Here is what I mean: majority or minority. Current Senate: Republican caucus, 55 Senators, they represent 144,765,000 Americans. The Democratic caucus has less Senators, 45 as opposed to 55, and they represent some 148,336,000 Americans. So where is the minority here?

In this chart, each Senator is allotted one-half of his or her state's population, just to explain how we get there. What you find is that the minority in this body, the Democratic caucus, represents 3.5 million more people than does the majority. That is exactly why the Founding Fathers wanted to protect minority rights in the Senate, because a minority of Senators may actually represent a majority of the people.

How do you discard that and say: Well, we are the majority? You don't own the place. It is supposed to be a consensus government, particularly in the Senate.

I make one last appeal to the majority leader: Don't take this destructive action.

I want the American people to understand one thing: The big fight here is because the people who will get these positions have lifetime tenure. That means they could be here 20, 30, or 40 years.

I have faith in the courage of my colleagues across the aisle. I hope they are going to put loyalty to their country ahead of loyalty to a political party.