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Excerpts: 14 Senators Hold
Press Conference
on Agreement
on Judicial Nominees

May 23, 2005 (EIRNS)—

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): We're here, 14 Republicans and Democrats, seven on each side, to announce that we have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had, in the view of all 14 of us, lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution.

I'm grateful for the efforts of Senator Frist and Senator Reid to come to an agreement on this issue. We appreciate very much their leadership. And we all appreciate each other's involvement, but probably the two that I'd like to point out here that provided us with a beacon of where we should go is Senator Byrd, our distinguished senior Democrat leader, and Senator Warner who both were vital to this process.

You have before you the agreement and I won't go in the details of it. But basically, all 14 of us have pledged to vote for cloture for the judicial nominees Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.

The signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on two judges, William Myers and Henry Saad. Future nominations will—the signatories will exercise their responsibilities and the nominees should only be filibusters under extraordinary circumstances.

And in light of this commitment and a continuing commitment, we will try to do everything in our power to prevent filibusters in the future.

This agreement is meant in the finest traditions of the Senate it was entered into: trust, respect and mutual desire to see the institution of the Senate function in ways that protect the rights of the minority....

Nothing in this agreement prevents any individual senator from exercising his or her individual rights....

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.): And I'm glad to say that we have been able to reach an agreement, if you will, make a deal for the future to deal with the Senate business in a way that will keep the faith, will certainly keep the faith of the framers of our country and the founding fathers. It will retain the individual rights and responsibilities of each senator.

I think it's a positive step for us to be able to set aside the nuclear option. It also gives as many judges as we possibly can under these circumstances an up-or-down vote.

So I think the good faith and the mutual trust that we have achieved here will carry over into this Senate on other business as well.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ak.): Let me just say a couple of very quick words. And first thing I want everybody here to know we don't have a Thomas Jefferson in the bunch. OK?

This came as a result of perspiration not inspiration. As you know, we worked very, very hard to get here. It is in the finest traditions of the Senator and this agreement is based on trust. It's based on trust....

Listen, there's a lot of hypotheticals. We don't know what is coming down in the future but we do know that we trust each other. The 14 of us have sat down, looked at each other, shaken hands, shared our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our frustrations and this is based on trust....

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.): I would simply say, by way of introduction, we opened almost every meeting with Bob Byrd saying, "Country, institution connects us."

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.): Well, I remember Benjamin Franklin, the oldest in the group that signed the Constitution of the United States. He was approached by a lady who said, "Dr. Franklin, what have you given us?"

And he said, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

We have kept it. We have kept the republic. I am very proud of these colleagues of mine on the Republican side and the Democratic side. We have lifted ourselves above politics. And we have signed this document in the interest of United States Senate, in the interest of freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate.

And I say thank god, thank god for this moment and for these colleagues of mine, thank you very much. Thank you.

Warner: I've said very little throughout this entire process. I think it was a privilege to be associated with these individuals. And I'll say very little now, except it's been a remarkable study of Senate history and the history of our country throughout this whole process. And the one unanswered question that guided me all the way through is—it was unanswered—what would happen to the Senate if the nuclear option were done? No one was able to answer that to my satisfaction.

Sen. Mike Dewine (R-Ohio): I think this is a good day for the United States Senate but I think more important it's a good day for the country. I felt that why we got into this of course, the whole situation is I felt that the status quo that we have seen for the last several years was not acceptable. Many of us on our side of the aisle certainly did, that the filibuster is being used too often. But I also felt that the use of the constitutional option would not be good for the Senate nor good for the country. So really we are faced with two bad options. And I sought this compromise as a way to avoid the options and frankly two bad options.

Frankly to try to put us back in the position we were a few years ago where a filibuster was available but frankly not used very often.

And I think if you look at the language that we have here, I think we have achieved this.

This agreement is based on good faith, good faith among people who trust each other. And it's our complete expectation that it will work. Senators have agreed that they will not filibuster except in extraordinary circumstances. We believe that that will, in fact, work.

Some of you who are looking at the language may wonder what some of the clauses mean. The understanding is—and we don't think this will happen—but if an individual senator believes in the future that a filibuster is taking place under something that's not extraordinary circumstances, we of course reserve the right to do what we could have done tomorrow which is to cast a yes vote for the constitutional option.

I was prepared to do that tomorrow if we could not reach an agreement. But thank heavens we do not have to do that. And it's our hope that we will never have to do that.

So I think this is a very good day for our country, good day for the United States Senate. It will enable us to get back, frankly, to the people's business and to deal with the issues that I think the American people expect us to deal with every day.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT): And as those who have preceded me have said over and over again, each of us accepted parts of this agreement which were not perfect to our desires, but we did it for a larger purpose: to save the right of unlimited debate, to take the Senate back from the precipice.

And if the nuclear option had been passed, I think it would have led to a cycle of increasing divisiveness in the Senate and decreasing productivity in terms of the people's business.

So I thank all who worked so hard to make this happen. I'm proud to be part of it. And I hope maybe this empowered bipartisan center will decide that it's been good to work together and we'll keep on working together to get some good things done for the American people.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (D-ME): Let me just say that I'm very pleased to be part of this group and my colleagues in achieving this historic compromise. What bound us was the belief, the strong belief, that exercising the pending motion of this constitutional option would be detrimental to the long-term well-being of the United States Senate.... We believed as well that the American people didn't deserve the option of just blanket filibusters or historic parliamentary maneuvers that overturned 200 years of tradition and precedent. What they did deserve is to have meaningful and good-faith collaboration among Republicans and Democrats united to do what was in the best interest of this institution, not just for the short term, for the long term.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.): I would just add that I was proud to be a part of this group and believe so strongly that had the nuclear option been invoked that the Senate would have perhaps passed a point of no return. And that would have been a very sad day indeed for our country.

One of the strongest parts of this compromise is that we hope the group of us that trust each other, that have worked together across the aisle on many, many, many important issues and will continue to do so, is that we can return to the early practices of our government, that we can reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advise and consent process in the Senate in the last few years.

We firmly believe that this agreement is consistent with the best traditions of the Senate.

So what we have come to is a pause, a hope, a chance that we can pass this difficult point, return the right of the minority to speak up and to be heard, but most importantly to encourage advice from the administration to the Senate in a way that will move this country forward.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): I'm reminded of that old expression that everything has been said but not everyone has said it at this point. You're going to hear over and over again the words "good faith," "mutual respect" and "trust," because those words characterized our negotiations. Hour after hour, day after day, we kept working toward a goal that we all believed in.... All of us love the United States Senate. We're very proud of our work today. And it is my hope that this can be a model for us as we go forward to confront the important issues facing our country.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): Like Mike, I was prepared to vote yes. I've been saying for two years that I thought the filibuster was sort of out of bounds.... We're at war. Kids are dying as we speak. And now I think the Senate is back in business. I could vote to change the rules. And like John, said, "I don't know what would happen." Senator Warner said, "I don't know what would happen."

Here's what I know is going to happen now. People at home are going to be very upset at me for a while. Judges are going to get a vote that wouldn't have gotten a vote otherwise. We're going to start talking about who would be a good judge and who wouldn't. And the White House is going to get more involved and they are going to listen to us more.... Bottom line: We can repair it in a way that will allow the country to have a Senate that functions for the common good because Social Security is coming apart and kids are dying. That's why I changed my attitude and that's why I'm willing to change my vote because this is a lot bigger than me.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO): Let me first say, there are two colleagues that signed the agreement who are not here today, Senator Inouye and Senator Chafee. And I think they represent in the same way the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation that you see among the senators who are here at this press conference.

For me, I am ranked number 100 in the United States Senate. Senator Byrd is number one. And I think that when you look at where we come from, we come from a sense of wanting to have solutions for the problems that face our country.

For me, even though I have been here only a period of approximately five months, what I have found most troubling about Washington, D.C., is the poisonous atmosphere of partisanship that exists in this Capitol.

And I'm hoping that the statement that these senators are making here today is a statement that says that in order for us to solve the problems of our country in this generation and to the future, it's going to require people that are wanting to unite us, not people who want to divide us. And I think this is a statement of unity that you see coming from these Republican and Democratic senators who are here before you today.