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“They want the rubber stamp of dictatorship,” said Senator Chuck Schumer.
“They want one-party rule,” said Senator Patrick Leahy.
“An ill wind blows through this country. Your freedom of speech is in jeopardy,” said Senator Bob Byrd. “The opponents of the filibuster, the opponents of free speech say we don’t need 217 years of American history.”
Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, and Hillary Clinton also took turns at the microphone to denounce a Republican “power grab.” They were speaking on Wednesday at a rally organized by MoveOn.org.
Senate Republicans, upset that a mere 95 percent of Bush’s judicial nominations have been approved, have proposed eliminating the filibuster, and with it the minority party’s ability to oppose a nomination and to insist on 60 votes rather than 51 for approval.
Senator Reid said that news reports depict Democrats as wanting to shut down the Senate, but that it is the Republicans who want to change the rules if they can’t get everything they want. Reid asked the 500 people packed into a hotel ballroom to prevent right-wing radio from drowning out Democratic voices on this issue.
While Reid and then Durbin spoke, their lines were punctuated by shouts of “yeah!” and “right,” all of them coming from the crowd favorite: Senator Byrd.
Durbin discussed incidents in which Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had tried to exert too much influence over the judiciary. This, he said, was another time to defend the judiciary’s independence.
When Byrd took the stage and the standing ovation died down, he brandished a copy of the US Constitution. He rattled off a list of unpopular Republican actions, including privatization of Social Security and spending a billion dollars a week in Iraq.
“Are we going to be bullied by a majority that wants to silence us on all of these issues? There must be no gag rule in the Senate!”
“The President,” Senator Kennedy added, “has the veto, and we have unlimited debate and discussion.” Kennedy made clear what he wanted to discuss: a nominee opposed to voting rights (William Pryor), another opposed to environmental protections (William Morris), and a third with a resume that includes planning the United States new practices of torture (William Haynes).
Boxer pointed out that only 10 nominations have been blocked, while 204 have been approved. Blocking those 10, she said, had required Senator Leahy to find security protection for himself and his family.
“They want to make this country into a banana republic,” said Schumer, “where if you don’t get your way you change the rules.” One of the nominees, Schumer said, had called slavery “God’s gift to white people.” Another had said that a woman must be subjugated to a man. Another opposed all zoning laws. Another opposed all labor laws, including laws on child labor.
“If these people get on the courts, they will change America,” Schumer said. “They want to go back, not to the 1930s, but to the 1890s. They want a nation in which the powerful get anything they want.”
Schumer said that Republican Senator John McCain had advised him not to try to stop these nominations. McCain argued that the right-wingers had attacked him fiercely in the South Carolina presidential primary in 2000. “I said, ‘You forgot one thing,'” said Schumer, “‘I’m from Brooklyn and I love a fight!'”
Kennedy and Boxer encouraged attendees to plan to work to reelect Senator Byrd.
Clinton pointed out that the Senate is about to recess for two weeks. She asked people to reach out to some of the Republican senators who have been in the Senate the longest and appeal to them not to damage the way the Senate operates “just because they can.”
If the Republicans can close off debate on this issue, they will close it off on anything, Clinton said. An American in Iraq, she said, was asked by an Iraqi who was trying to figure out how to set up a new democracy, “How do you protect the rights of the minority?” The answer from the American was: “Allow the filibuster.”
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