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tv   US Senate  CSPAN  March 10, 2016 2:00pm-4:01pm EST

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the presiding officer: are there any senators that wish to vote or change their vote? hearing none, the motion to table the motion to dismiss -- discharge senate joint resolution 31, 71 in favor, 24 opposed. the motion carries.
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a senator: mr. president, is there a quorum call in place? the presiding officer: the senate is not in a quorum call. a senator: thank you, mr. president. mr. merkley: mr. president, i'm rising today to address a very important issue, which is the right of american citizens to know what is in their food. now, i wouldn't be talking about this topic of genetically modified ingredients in food. i will be pointing out there are some genetic modifications that are largely considered to have been beneficial and others that are largely considered to be
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causing some significant challenges. in both cases, there are signs to bring to bear around the benefits and there are signs to bring to bear around the disadvantages. ultimately, i will conclude with a little preface here that this is not a debate about the scientific pros and cons. there is information on both sides, different aspects. what it is a debate is about whether our federal government wants to be the large overbearing presence in the lives of americans and tell them what to think or whether we believe in our citizens' ability to use their own minds and make their own decisions and to be able to do that they have to be able to know when there are g.m.o. ingredients in the food that they are consuming. so let's start with that point that there are significant benefits from various g.m. modified plants, and one example is golden rice.
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golden rice, as seen here, has been modified in order to produce a lot more vitamin a, and so growing this in an area where there is a lot of vitamin a deficiency has been very beneficial to the health of local populations. or let's take, for example, a certain form of carrot. it has been modified to produce an enzyme that helps rid the body of fatty substances, and when you can't do that, you have gaucher's disease and lots of trouble from that and enlarged livers and spleens and bone damage and bruising. but through the modification of these carrots, there is a solution. and of course should you be a victim of gaucher's disease, you would be very happy about that. let's take another example. these are sweet potatoes that have been modified to resist a number of viral infections common in south africa.
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so at a place where otherwise you might not be able to grow these sweet potatoes, the local population might not be able to benefit from the nutrition in these sweet potatoes, they can do so. these are just some examples of some of the benefits that have come from some forms of genetic modification of plants. but just as there is science showing these benefits, there is also science showing concerns. and i'm going to start by explaining that the largest modification in america, the largest deployed modification is to make plants such as corn and soybean and sugar beets resistant to an herbicide called glyphosate. now, the use of gly p. hosate has increased dramatically over the last two decades. in 1994, we were talking about 7.4 million pounds, not very much, but by 2012, we're talking
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about and rounding off 160 million pounds of this herbicide being put onto our crops. well, one's reaction may be well, okay, but is there any down side to that massive deployment of herbicides? and yes, in fact, there is. this herbicide is so efficient in killing weeds that it kills milk weed. well, milk weed happens to grow in disturbed soil so it's been a common companion to our agricultural world, and milk weed is the single substance that monarch butterflies feed on. so as the glyphosate expansion has increased over the same time period, the monarch butterfly has radically decreased because its food supply has been dramatically reduced. now, this is not the only factor considered to affect the monarch butterfly, but it is an example of a significant factor, and
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that -- that is something that you think what else has happened in the natural world as a result of changing dramatically the variety of plants that surround our farm fields. or let's turn to another impact. all of these millions of pounds of glyphosate which go on the fields, well, much of it ends up running off the field and running into our streams and rivers, and it's an herbicide so it has a profound impact on the makeup of organisms in those streams and rivers. for example, it can have an impact on micro-organisms, algae and then things that feed on that up the food chain, fish, mussels, amphibians and so forth. now, we don't understand all of the impacts of this massive amount of herbicide in our streams and rivers, but science has started to say yes there is an impact and studies are under way to understand those impacts more thoroughly.
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of course, we do care about the health of our streams and rivers. or let's take another example. sometimes you just can't fool mother nature. one impact of the massive application of glyphosate is that weeds start to develop a resistance to it, and then you have to start to use more of it. and also that's true in the different sphere. here i'm talking about a particular genetic modification that goes into the -- the cells in a plant and is designed to fend off the western corn root worm. now, the western corn root worm eats corn when it's in the larva stage, that is the worm stage, and it does so when it's in the beetle stage and beautiful examples are shown here. it can eat the pollination part
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of the corn so that the corn doesn't produce healthy kernels as well. it can eat the leaves. it pretty much loves the entire corn plant. well, so this genetic modification produces a pesticide inside the cell and was in the beginning very effective in killing these corn root worms. but guess what? mother nature has a continuous stream of genetic mutations, and if you apply this to millions and millions of acres and millions of pounds, eventually mother nature produces a mutation that makes it immune to this pesticide. and then those immune rootworms start multiplying, and you have to start applying the pesticide again. and maybe you have to apply even more than before because they -- they have developed a resistance to it. and that is exactly what is happening here, and so that is a significant reverberation.
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now, all i'm trying to point out here is that this is not really an argument about science. science can tell us that there have been occasions in which genetic modifications have an initial beneficial impact, and their science will tell us that there are situations in which the reverberations of using these genetically modified plants are having a negative impact. and so that is where it stands. it's like any other technology. it can be beneficial, it can be harmful. so the question is does our government, the big hand of the federal government, reach out and say to our cities and our counties and our states there is one only -- only one answer to this, and that is why we are going to ban you from letting citizens know what is in their food. now, of course, there isn't only one answer.
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we've seen that there are benefits and there are disadvantages. and quite frankly i think it's just wrong for the federal government to take away our citizens' right to know, and that's why i'm doing all i can to publicize this at this moment. various states have wrestled with whether to provide information to their citizens knowing their citizens can then decide on their own whether they want to buy a product that has genetically modified ingredients. now, most of our food products today do because virtually all our corn, virtually all our sugar beets, virtually all our soybeans are genetically modified, but citizens can look at what type of genetic modification. they can respond. they can use their minds with information. this is really what is beautiful in democracy. government doesn't make up your mind for you. government doesn't impose a certain framework in which you have to view the world.
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and yet, right now at this very moment there are a group of senators in this body who want to impose those blinders on you, american citizens. they want to tell you how to think. they are supporting a bill which says the federal government will take one side of this argument and tell you it is the truth and spend your tax dollars publicizing it. this is the type of propaganda machine that you would expect outside of a democracy but not here in the we the people government of the united states of america, not here where we value our citizens' ability to make their own choices. so it's very important that we wake up quickly and respond to this, because the simple truth is a group of very powerful companies are working right now to get a bill passed that will take away our citizens' right to
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know about g.m. ingredients in their products. this bill is called the dark act to know. and it has passed out of committee, and the majority leader has said it's a priority for him to put the dark act on the floor of this senate next week, with virtually no notice to the united states of america. most of these issues percolate inside committee for a length of time. and then get digested on the floor for a length of time. but no, this is -- they are going to slam this through, this imposition on the right to know in america. and that is just absolutely wrong. now, let me talk a little bit about how the american citizens feel about this. there was a survey done at the end of 2015, so just a couple of months ago. this was a nationwide survey of
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likely 2016 election voters done in november, 2015, and here's a question that was asked the participants -- quote -- "as you may know, it has been proposed that the food and drug administration or f.d.a. require foods which have been genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled to indicate that. would you favor or oppose requiring labels for foods that have been genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients?" and after the respondent gives the answer, then the follow-up question, is that strongly or not so strongly. 89% of americans say they favor mandatory labels on foods that have genetically modified ingredients. that's powerful. that's nine out of ten americans. furthermore, 77% of the
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respondents said they not only favor mandatory labels, but they strongly favor the proposal. now, this is very unusual to have nine americans line up on one side versus one on the other, and is this something that has to do with party affiliation? absolutely not. across the great spectrum of ideologies in america, citizens agree. in this poll, 89% of independents, the same as overall. 84% of republicans. 92% of democrats. in other words, regardless of party, basically nine out of ten individuals say the same thing. on the right, on the left, in the middle. well, that should be listened up to hear on capitol hill because
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we are intended by the constitution to be a we the people government, not a government of, by and for powerful ag companies. if you want to serve in that kind of government, go to some other country, because that's not the design of our constitution. our responsibility is to the people of america. they don't like big government trying to tell them how to think. and that's why this dark act is just wrong. now, there are some ideas floating around this building just today. one of those ideas is, well, we'll put a label on a food product that will be just a phone number. and if you, the citizen, want to know about details about this product if it contains genetically modified ingredients, well, you can ring
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up this phone number and maybe somebody will answer your question. you can call the company and the company will tell you what they think about their product. well, first, americans don't want to stand there in the grocery store and start making phone calls to companies. can you imagine you're standing there and you actually care about whether there's a g.m.o. in this product. you're going to make a phone call? you're going to wait while you're going through a telephone tree. you're going to have to speak to someone overseas who may not even understand what you're asking or you get a company spokesman who is going to lay out the company line and never really give you an answer. why should you have to do that? now, the parallel situation, think about this, we have all these other ingredients on the package. and we include things like sea salt as opposed to salt. and we have preservatives and we have colors that are incorporated into the food because people want to know
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about what the colors that have been -- the food dyes that have gone into the food. they want to know about the preservatives that have gone into the food. we even tell companies they have to tell the consumer on the label whether the fish has been caught in the wild or whether it has been raised on a farm. why do we require that label. we require that label it's something citizens want to know about the ingredients in their food. in this case the makeup of their fish because it's different. there's different farming practices between catching wild salmon and eating, if you will, or raising salmon in a farm, in a pond, or in an ocean-contained area. citizens care about that. so we require it to be disclosed. we require our juice companies to say whether the juice is
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fresh or it's reconstituted. why do we provide that information? why do we require that? because citizens want to know. there is a difference between the two products, and they want to know. and it's their right to know. what they put into their own bodies, what they feed to their family, what their children consume, it's their right to know. and again nine out of ten americans say this is important to them. well, this telephone idea is just the worst possible scam. let's put it frankly. nobody is going to stand comparing soups making phone call after phone call after phone call. nobody who wants to know if there's high friewk toes corn syrup is going to look at a can and dial phone number after phone number after phone number. that's why it's printed on the label.
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there's another idea floating around here and it's called put a computer code on the product and people can scan it with their smartphone and get information. well, this may be even more ludicrous than the phone idea in terms of stripping the power of american citizens' right to know. now, first of all, uf's got to -- you've got to be there in the grocery store and here are the different cans of soup you're going to compare. let me take a picture of the first one with my phone. oh, okay. now i've got to go to the website. i'm taking a picture of the barcode. i'm going to go to the website. which page of the website do i go to? oh, look, this website was written by the company that makes it. they're making it hard for this information to be found. they're making it hard for this to be understood. they're not disclosing the details on the type of modification. well, that is absurd. can you really tell me any member of this chamber, can you stand up and tell me that you're going to take pictures of ten different products while your child is sitting this your
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grocery cart? and that's just to buy one thing on your grocery list. does anyone here want to stand up and claim that they would do that? well, i think the silence speaks for itself. and certainly we're in a situation where people don't want to take pictures with their cell phone of these codes because it reveals information about you that the companies collect on you. why should you have to give up your pief si to -- privacy to know about an ingredient in your food? so let's be clear. there are two scams being discussed right now by the majority leaders of this chamber, this chamber which stands for free speech and knowledge, not suppressed speech and lack of knowledge. they want to send you down this rabbit hole of 800 numbers or this blind alley, this blind alley of computer barcodes rather than a simple indication on a package.
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let's recognize that this is a pretty easy problem to resolve because most of the world has figured it out. 64 other countries, 28 members of the european union. japan, australia, brazil, they all have a simple disclosure on the package, a consumer friendly phrase or symbol. that's simple. it's straightforward. there is no smoke screen. there is no blind alley. there is no rabbit hole. there is no cleverness over an 800 number or a barcode or another computer called a quick response code. no, they simply give the information like we do on everything else. like we do on preservatives, like we do on food colorings,
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like we do on core ingredients, like we do on wild caught fish versus farm fish, like we do on juice from concentrate versus fresh juice. they make it simple. they just have a simple marking on the package. and you know who else provides this simple information to their consumers? china. do our citizens deserve less information than the chinese who live in a dictatorship? why are members of this chamber trying to strip more information away from american citizens than does the dictatorship of china? that is just wrong. so there is an easy solution here. there are a number of reasonable arguments that big agriculture is making. they are saying, look, we do not want 50 states producing 50
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different label standards. i absolutely agree. and they say we don't want a bunch of counties and cities producing yet other label standards. it could go into the thousands. fair point. one common way of doing this would make sense. you can't have a warehouse that's serving three or four different states or multiple communities have to have its product sorted and distributeed one group to here and one group to there. you can't keep it all straight. the wrong part goes. it's expensive, all these different labels. it's confusing. no. fair point. i agree. let's do that, one 50-state solution. and the industry says we don't want anything pejorative. we don't want anything that says that g.m. is scary or g.m. is bad. and i pointed out there are advantages of genetic
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modifications and there are disadvantages. i agree there, too. let's not put a mark on a package that's pejorative. and the industry says we don't want anything on the front of the package. it takes up space. it may suggest that there's something scary about this if you're putting it on the front of the package. okay, fair enough. let's not put it on the front of the package. i completely accept that point. and then the industry says there are several different ways we could do this. we'd like flexibility. absolutely. let's have flexibility. so i've put together a bill which hits all these key points that the food industry has raised. it is a a-state solution -- it is a 50-state solution. there is nothing on the front of the package. there is nothing that's pejorative and it gives the type of flexibility that the industry has talked about. they're allowed under the bill i've put forward to proceed to put initials behind an ingredient in parens or to put
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an asterisk on the ingredient and put an explanation below or to put in a phrase like campbell 's soup plans to do that simply says this product contains genetically modified ingredients. campbell soup is planning to do that because they say they want a relationship of full integrity with their customer. shouldn't we all be in full integrity with our citizens? doesn't that make a lot of sense? and yet another this inning would be to put a symbol, any symbol chosen by the f.d.a. so certainly not one that suggests that anything pejorative about the product. brazil uses a little "t." okay, how about a little "t" in a box or tie angle or something else that the f.d.a. or the food companies would like. the point is if someone cares enough to pick up a package, turn is over, look at the fine print on the ingredients, if
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they care enough to look just like they might care enough to look up whether or not there's high fructose corn syrup, just as they might care enough to see if there's peanuts because they might have a peanut allergy or to look to see how many calories. if they care enough to turn it over, a little symbol. well, all of those options are available under this type of reasonable compromise. now, it would appear on each product involved this interstate commerce. okay, so it's consistent, and that's a point made. it's clear, these symbols are clear. the public cares, gets educated. they know what to look for. it's easy to find. it's right there on the package. there is no sending you off on a wild goose chase through a phone tree and anle00 number. -- an 800 number. there's no proceeding to tell you you have to use a smartphone which many people don't have.
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they might not have reception to be able to use it effectively if they wanted to. no, it's a simple, straightforward symbol, phrase, initials right there on the ingredients package. what could be more appropriate than the simplicity of that. well, many folks have stepped forward to say this makes tremendous sense. and so campbell's soup said yes, we endorse this. this makes sense. and nature's path and stoneyfield and ben & jerry's and amy's kitchen and the consumer's union and the american association for justice and the sustainable agriculture coalition, the just label it coalition. yes, okay, that's final. we're not asking for something on the front of the package. it doesn't have to be on the front. it doesn't have to be scary. it could be in the tiny print. just when an ernest, sincere citizen wants to know, they have the right to know in a
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consumer-friendly fashion. now, i want to particularly thank the senators who have already signed on to endorse this legislation. senator leahy and senator bernie sanders from vermont which have a state labeling bill that would be preempted by this bill. it would be replaced by this 50-state national standard, but because this is a fair standard for consumers, they're endorsing this bill. senator tester of montana and senator feinstein of california, senator murphy of connecticut, senator gillibrand of new york, senator blumenthal of connecticut and senator boxer and senator markey and senator heinrich, all parts of the country, different parts of the country all saying you know what? our citizens 9-1 want a simple, fair statement or symbol on the ingredients list that that is just the right way to go.
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if you're going to step on the authority of states to provide information that citizens want, you've got to provide a simple, clear indication on the package. that's the deal. that's the fair compromise. that's standing up for citizens' right to know. that's honoring the public interest. that's a compromise in the classic sense that works for the big issues that the companies are talking about. they don't want the expense of individual states and they don't want the complexity and confusion from individual states. and what consumers want, a simple indication on the package. so let's do the right thing. let's not be worse than china and block our consumers from having access to information. let's do the right thing that virtually every developed country has done and provide a simple, clear system for
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citizens to be able to know what's in their food. thank you, mr. president. i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: will the senator withhold his request? mr. merkley: happily so. the presiding officer: the senator from north carolina. mr. tillis: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, i appreciate the opportunity to come down to the floor and talk a little bit about the ongoing dialogue that we're having on the supreme court nomination. before i start the speech, though, i did want to, for those who may think all we do is sit here and fight today, mr. president. i think you were at the
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bipartisan lunch. i thought it was a great opportunity. so oftentimes you just see the floor debate or you may see the dialogue in the committee rooms, but it was a great opportunity that we do about every month or so where democrats and republicans come together and we enjoy our company. we talk maybe a little bit about policy but more about our folks back home. just want to let the american people know that because we happen to have differences, it doesn't mean that we don't like and respect so many of them. today, though, mr. president, i am talking about something that is a point of contention between the democrats and the republicans, and it relates to the -- the open supreme court seat as a result of the tragic passing of justice scalia. now, mr. president, originally i was going to come to the floor and provide a speech that i have prepared, but i was in the judiciary committee today and i have decided probably against my staff's wishes to deviate a little bit from the script to talk about some of the facts that were put forth in the
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judiciary committee today. one of the arguments that you hear from the members of the democratic party is that somehow the supreme court has been shut down. that couldn't be further from the truth. actually, since the passing of justice scalia, there have been some 12 arguments heard in the supreme court, five opinions. there will be several more. as a matter of fact, over the course of history, there have been a number of instances where the supreme court has had justices recuse themselves, justices go on a leave of absence for another duty. a number of instances where the court continues to function just fine with eight and sometimes even fewer than eight justices active in any given opinion. so to say that for some reason until we make an appointment to the supreme court that the supreme court is going to cease to function defies the facts. as a matter of fact, just in the
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october, -- the supreme court has two sessions, the first half of the year, the second half of the year. in october, 2014, there were 72 arguments heard before the supreme court. there are only 18 of them that actually were divided among the ideological lines within the supreme court. so 3/4 of all the cases in 2014 were actually settled with significant numbers of people joining together to render an opinion. so the court's working just fine. it's going to continue to work just fine. i would also argue that the idea that was put forth by some of the members that the supreme court is suddenly going to be shut down for a year defies logic and history. the supreme court is already in session. they will go through probably the end of june or the beginning of july. there is no possible way under normal circumstances that we would have the time to appoint a supreme court justice who would
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be participating in this term. so what we're really talking about is the october term, and at the -- if the october term of this year bears any resemblance to the october term of 2014, there may be five or ten cases where the nine member -- the nine-member court would be material. the vast majority are going to move through. i think that's why i kind of think that this idea of shutting down the third branch of government is disingenuous and just really supporting a political agenda. that's really talking about whether the government is functioning properly. the other thing i wanted to talk about before i get into some of the reasons why i have arrived at a decision to where i do not support nomination proceedings going through under president obama is really related to some history. before i get to the history that specifically relates to the constitutional obligation of the
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senate, the senate rules and maybe some of the positions that have been taken by members of the minority in the past, i also want to talk about one other area that concerns me in the dialogue. there has been this discussion about these back room meetings making the decisions. well, members meet oftentimes -- we tend to meet the majority of the time in public settings, but members got together and we decided to come up with a policy that was a clear position that a majority of the members of the judiciary committee and a majority of the members today are republican were going to take on the nomination. we all agreed, all 11 of us, that we're not going to move forward with the nomination. call it a backroom deal. whether or not you would argue that that's an improper practice, what i found interesting, members in the judiciary committee who brought this up did something that i think was a profound show of disrespect for this institution. it happened a few years ago when in a back room the leader of the
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then-majority, senator reid, convinced all the members of the democratic conference to vote on the nuclear option. the nuclear option is -- well, it's great i guess for tv, but let me tell you structurally what the nuclear option is. throughout decades, there was a 60-vote threshold for moving nominations through the senate unless you had consensus to just hold it down to 51 votes. in a back room, then-majority leader, senator reid, convinced his conference to come to this floor and break the rules to change the rules, to prevent the minority from being able to weigh in on judicial nominations and a number of other nominations. in fact, after that rule was passed, after that decision was made in a back room and after those folks came to the floor and broke the rules to change the rules, they ended up confirming some 84 judges without any, any input from the then-minority republicans.
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so when people want to sit up here and say that somehow what we did was different, this is one nomination. this is a decision we made about one nomination, but we have a group of people, every single person on the judiciary committee, in fact, who were in the democratic conference voted to deny the minority from having what has been a decades-old tradition in the senate to have the minority to weigh in on nominations. now, i would now like to get to maybe some of the other discussions. you know, first off, we have to recognize we are in the throes of the -- of the primary season for the presidential nomination. it would be very, very difficult to live in the united states and not know a little bit about the primary that's going on. and the people are in a position over a very few short months where they are going to make the decision, they are going to voice their vote. i, for one, think that the people should be allowed to weigh into this decision, and i do believe that many of the senators on the other side of the aisle have felt the same
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way. in fact, i will go through a couple of quotes where they made it very clear. in fact, they are very trained, very articulate. they probably can voice their position which now is my position better than i ever could. now, one thing that comes up in this discussion is our constitutional obligation. it's the obligation to advise and consent. but keep in mind that the advise and consent is not a constitutional obligation for the senate to rubber stamp the decisions of the president. quite the contrary. the whole idea of the congress and the three branches was to have some checks and balances in place. so it's absolutely there was no concept on the part of the founding fathers to say and when the president makes a decision, the congress will rubber stamp that decision. we then have an equal authority to determine whether or not that nomination will come through a nominations process or we will simply decide not to take up the nomination.
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now, a lot of people think that's a new concept, but the reality is it's a concept that has been in place for many, many years in the senate rules. for people to say we always dispose of nominations in the term that we're in defies the existence of this rule that simply says should the senate choose not to take up a nomination, then the next president will put forth another momtion for consideration. so again, i think people are finessing what our responsibilities are and whether or not this is really something different or something that wasn't anticipated by the people who come before us who establish a number of rules that govern the senate. now, i want to talk a little bit about what i think must be a very uncomfortable place for some of the members of the minority to be, and that's their own history on the current situation here in the senate. we're in the middle of a campaign. we're in the middle of a tough campaign on both sides of the aisle, whether it's the democratic primary or the republican primary.
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people are engaging in a way that they haven't in many, many years. turnout in the primaries are more significant than they have been in years. people are watching. so we have an opportunity to educate the people on this very important choice in terms of the supreme court nomination. i for one think that the nomination should be instructive by the vote that's cast in november for the president, and actually for that matter the senate congressional elections. some people say well, the people have spoken, and president obama was re-elected to a second term. that's true. and then two years later, the people spoke again and i was elected to the u.s. senate and republicans were brought to a majority. so the people spoke in a different way. just a few months from now, we'll get the most up to date -- up to date read of where the american people are and who they want to lead the country and who they want to nominate the next supreme court justice. now, this one has been famously reported in the press.
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i couldn't say it any better than senator biden did, but he talked about the need to at a certain point in time during the political process to move out of the -- set things aside, let the people speak and let that be instructive to the supreme court nomination. now, i know that the vice president incidentally at the time that he made this quote is the chair of the judiciary committee, the position that senator grassley currently holds. he is basically saying what senator grassley has said and that i fully support. so i think that president biden was right -- or vice president biden was right the first time. he seems to be stepping back on his words, but i don't think his words can be parsed. they were pretty well articulated right here on the senate floor. and then we come to the minority leader. we now have the minority leader and others coming to the floor talking about what our constitutional duty is. but the minority leader came to
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this floor right over there, not very far from where i am, and he said -- "the duties of the senate are set forth in the u.s. constitution. nowhere in that document does it say the senate has a duty to give presidential appointees a vote." i agree with senator reid. and then finally, we have one of my good friend from new york, senator schumer. senator schumer is a very articulate man. he's a practice attorney. i -- there are many aspects of him i admire. and another instance, in a very passionate speech given -- it's on youtube, you can all watch ir position, that circumstances get to a point where maybe we need to hold nominations until we get the information we need that are instructive to the future nomination or the future vote or consent matter. so i agree with senator reid of 2005. i agree with senator biden, chairman biden, now vice
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president biden of 1992. and i agree with senator schumer of 2007. so, ladies and gentlemen, it is time for us to move on and recognize the position that we've taken as a position that's going to stand. we can go to the american people and back in our states and states like north carolina where we've got a primary next week. i'll be traveling all across the state tomorrow and saturday, back again on monday. and i will explain to them why i've taken the position that i have. and when we do, all the games that are being played now with one poll saying one thing or another poll saying another thing, we can cut through the noise and talk about what we're really trying to do here. and what we're really trying to do here is give the people an opportunity to voice where they want to take the direction of the supreme court. where they want to take the nation in terms of the presidency and where they want to take the nation in terms of the congress. i'm willing to bet on the people's voice, and i'm looking
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forward to having it be instructive to the ultimate decision that i make about a supreme court nominee. the last thing i'll leave you with, mr. president, i love getting letters from folks back in my state, and a lady named lois from north carolina wrote me a letter, and i think it really does a good job of summing up my own feelings. she said -- "i really wish the discussions and hoopla could have waited a little bit longer after judge scalia's passing, but we are having the back and forth of what to do. as your constituent, i'm in agreement with the committee position of waiting until after we have a new president. word out of the whitehouse to the senate is do your job. well, i for one think that you are doing your job. it's called checks and balances." so, mr. president, i look forward in the coming weeks to continuing this debate. i want to especially note senator grassley. he's a wonderful member of the
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senate. he has support and admiration from both sides of the aisle. i appreciate his leadership in this matter. i appreciate leader mcconnell's leadership in this matter, and iook forward to getting back to north carolina and hearing what the people would like for me to consider as we move forward with the nomination process.  thank you, mr. president. mr. president, i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk shall call the roll. quorum call:
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a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. a senator: are we in a quorum call? the presiding officer: we are. a senator: i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be vacated. the presiding officer: without objection so ordered. a senator: last month we reached a milestone in the continuing reform of our policy toward cuba the united states and cuba completed a bilateral air service agreement that is key to ensuring the continued travel of americans to the island.
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the newly minted air services agreement will for the first time in r50 years provide scheduled air service between the u.s. and cuba including 20 daily flights to havana and ten daily flights to other cuban airports. mr. flake: as someone who believes take all americans should have the chance to see a living museum of a failed socialist experiment, i look forward to the day when all americans can use websites that they're familiar with to make reservations, even with their frequent flyer miles to book flights to havana and elsewhere in cuba and clearly there's interest on our side of the floor. with easing regulatory restrictions, authorize travel to cuba by americans has increased by more than 50% in just one year. freedom to travel between the two countries will continue to open cultural and economic ties ben fighting the cuban people
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and americans alike. well i support everyone's right to travel to cue barks the key to the success will be ensuring that the initial flights being awarded by the department of transportation provide for the continued and expanded ability of the cuban-american community to travel to the island via regular air service. this should include adequate regular service to accommodate the growing demand from the largest and closest cuban-american population located in miami dade county. in addition, having traveled to cuba multiple times over the years, i hope that the department closely evaluates the complexity of operating there and ensures that those selected to operate these routes are up to the task, those with experience. a failure to launch scenario would represent a critically missed opportunity represented by the potential of successfully scheduled air services between the u.s. and cuba.
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we can't afford to let this opportunity go to waste. i've long supported efforts to restore the rights of american citizens to travel to cuba and have lifted -- i'm sorry, have introduced legislation to lift the statutory ban on travel along with my colleague from vermont, senator leahy. i'm pleased to say our legislation continues to gain bipartisan support, and i hope that as the situation changes on the ground with developments like regular air service, direct air service, scheduled air service, that thousands upon thousands of americans will visit cuba and that congress will do the right thing when it comes to changing our outdated law. with that i yield back, mr. president, and i would suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk shall call the roll. quorum call:
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a senator: mr. president?
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the presiding officer: the senator from alabama. a senator: mr. president, i would ask that the quorum call be dispensed with. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. sessions: mr. president, the nation has lost certainly one of the greatest justices ever to sit on the supreme court, antonin scalia. my condolences and prayers go out to his wife maureen of 55 years, his nine children and 36 grandchildren. my thought is that justice scalia's greatness was founded on the power of his ideas, his defense of those founding principles of america at the highest intellect yawl level -- intellectual level really is unprecedented in my knowledge in the united states. it was over his career and he moved the legal world, because i remember as a young lawyer what the trends were when i was a young lawyer out of law school and how justice scalia just relentlessly and intellectually,
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aggressively and soundly drove the message that many of the ideas that were out there today are inconsistent with the rule of law and the american tradition. the trend was relentlessly toward activism. judges were praised if they advanced the law, not that they followed the law and served under the law, served under the constitution, but that they advanced it. and in advancing it, what it really means is you change it. you advance it means the legislature hadn't passed something that you would like or the constitution doesn't advance the idea that you like, and you figure out a way to reinterpret the meaning of the words so it says what you'd like it to say. you wish the legislature had passed. one of the bogus ideas at that time, you don't hear much about it anymore, but it was current
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and it was almost -- it was mainstream really, was that that ink-stained parchment well over 200 years right over in the archives building was alive, that our constitution they say is a living document. well, how ridiculous is that? and the judges said that because it then gave them the power to update it and advance it and make it say what they would wish it to say. they even contended that it was the duty of the judge, not just the privilege of the judge, to advance the words of the constitution. justice scalia saw this as a direct threat, and he understood at its most fundamental level who was threatened by it, and that was we the people.
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you know the constitution, how it begins, "we the people of the united states of america, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare, do ordain and establish" -- what, friend and colleagues? this constitution. this one, the one that we have, not the one some judge might like it to be or some politician would like it to be but the one that we have. he boldly criticized the idea that a mere five judges -- it just takes five out of nine, life-time appointed, totally unaccountable to the american people. we're prohibited even from reducing their pay, which i support, because we want an
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independent judiciary. but judges need to know that they're given independence and a life-time appointment because we trust them to serve under the constitution, not above it. under the laws duly passed by the elected representatives of the people of the united states, not above those laws. they are not given the power to set policy that they'd like to set, no matter how strongly they feel about it. that's not what they're given to do. so he boldly criticized those ideas and those individuals that didn't mind saying it in plain words, "you're setting policy, you're not following yo followi" i would say, mr. president, that as professor einstein -- i think he was at william & mary, maybe
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at duke -- had a great quote about this. he said, "if you really honor the constitution, if you really respect the constitution, you will reinforce it as it is written, whether you like it or not." and if judges today can twist the constitution to make it say something it was not intended to mean, what might a new court, five judges in a new age a decade or two from now, how might they reinterpret the words to advance an agenda at that time? isn't that a blow to the very concept of a democratic republic that we have? i think so. and i just tell you, this has been a long, tough intellectual battle. but you don't hear many people say that paper document over in the archives is a living thing.
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of course it's not a living thing. it's a contract. the american people did a contract with their government. they gave them certain powers. reserved certain powers for themselves, reserved tern powers for their states, and the federal government is a government of limited power. this is absolutely fundamentally undenfundamentallyundeniable, ad people don't understand it today. i remember when an individual brought to me a high school textbook, and he said, i want you to -- i want you to see this. and it said, how do you amend the constitution? and it had several ways-- you know, congress in the constitutional convention. it said by judicial decision. he said, mr. u.s. attorney, how is it that judges -- i thought the judges were bound by the
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constitution, they didn't get to change the constitution. well, of course that's correct. but, in effect, we've had many instances when judges through hear interpretation have, in effect, amended the constitution. it's an absolute legal heresy. they should not do that, and it weakens the power of the democracy. now, one of the things i think is very important, it has created an incredible amount of law that -- and contrary to common sense is the question of religion and the public life in america. it's a very, very confused series of cases, many of which are contrary to common sense, in my opinion. and justice scalia had been very much involved in that. he's very much laid out a series of cases where he wrote the
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majority opinion or wrote the dissent or wrote concurring opinions in which he laid out a coherent policy for the expression of faith in the public realm. i think that in itself is a significant achievement. when justice roberts came before our court -- before our committee for confirmation, he remember telling him, sir, if you can participate in trying to clear up and bring some common sense to the question of expressions of faith, you can -- you got a right to free speech in america. you have to right to the free exercise of religion under the constitution. so somehow it's gotten around that you can have more -- you can be protected in filthy speech more than you can be protected in religious speech. so justice scalia made -- had a series of rulings that are
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important on that subject, and my staff has worked on it. and, mr. president, i would -- i ask -- and have laid that out here. it's just an important area that we need to clear up and bring some reality to the question of the expression of religious conviction in public life. the constitution says, we shall not establish a religion. congress shall not establish a religion. didn't even say states couldn't establish religion. it said congress couldn't establish a religion. and i it said, nor shall congres prohibit the free exercise thereof. so you can't prohibit the free exercise of religion. so i think we've forgotten the free exercise clause, and the -- and overinterpretted the fact of the establishment of a religion
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being prohibited because some states at the time had established religions. in europe most of the countries had, by law, a religion that they put in law for their country, and we said, no, we're not going to establish any religion here. you have a right -- and you have a right to exercise your religious faith as you choose. madison and jefferson particularly believed it was absolutely unacceptable for the government to tell people how to relate to that person they considered to be their creator. that was a personal relationship that ought to be respected, and the government ought to have no role in it. so i think justice scalia really made some contributions there and would ask, mr. president, the right to revise and extend my remarks. i ask unanimou-- i ask consent d stndz my remarks.
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the presiding officer: without objection. mr. sessions: i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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