Now, More Than Ever

Hugh Hewitt | The Weekly Standard | Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Now, More Than Ever

A SPEECH I HOPE a Republican senator from the classes of 2002 or 2004 makes at the next gathering of the GOP Senate caucus:

Thank you, Leader Frist, for giving me the floor. I realize it isn't usual for members here less than three years to make long speeches, but there are a number of us who have a unique, and I think valuable, perspective on the issue of the president's judicial nominees. Look around the room and you will see a lot heads nodding, I think, as I run down these points. Those of us who fought and won races over the 2002 and 2004 cycles--in places as different as Florida and Minnesota, Texas and South Dakota, Missouri and South Carolina--we have all been down that familiar road of a two-year campaign. John Thune's actually been down a four year road. But we have all--every one of us--appeared in literally thousands of living rooms and board rooms, hotel lobbies and open air rallies. We have been out there asking for the $10 donation and the $2,000 donation. All of us, every one of us, have been helped into office by George W. Bush. We have all done interview after interview, have appeared on a thousand radio talk shows and sent a million pieces of mail.

In short, we know something that a lot of you might not know, especially those members gearing up for the 2006 elections. Or at least we know it in a real, first-person way, whereas those of you who haven't been part of the last two cycles only know it in a theoretical way.

That something is that the judges really matter. They really, really matter.

This is something you have to hear, and hear in a way that maybe you haven't before because you either haven't been out there since the issue arose or because you had a comfortable reelection campaign. Because I don't know all of you very well, please allow me to address you as senator today, but please know I am saying this as a friend.

Senators, the issue of judges matters more than you can imagine. More than it has probably ever mattered in the 217 years of our country's political history. So much does it matter, Senators Snowe and Chafee--and I say this as a friend--that if we refuse or lose this battle, I think you will lose your seats. Please understand that I am not trying to threaten members of the body who have been here longer than I have, I am just trying to tell you what it is like out there in the states, where our party gathers momentum and ideas and votes and yes, contributions.

Nothing except the defense of this country matters more than judges. That's what our party's millions of members believe, and that's what is the background for our talks today.

I want to early on in my remarks to thank Senator Voinovich. Senator, you may not have intended to do so, but with your comments in the Foreign Relations Committee last week, you opened the door. After you said you needed time to think about the Bolton nomination, well, every network couldn't rush an expert out quick enough to praise you for your integrity. Over at CNN I thought Bill Schneider was going to canonize you. Senator Chafee also was on a lot of broadcasts saluting your willingness to rethink your position. Others made the same point that it takes courage to change your mind in D.C.

I thought then, and I emphasize now, senators can change their mind on big issues, especially when it is because you have thought long and hard on the subject. I am hoping Senators Chafee and McCain, who have announced their intention to vote with the Democrats on the issue of the filibuster, that they use the opportunity that Senator Voinovich has given them to rethink their position and rejoin the caucus. I think it is much more important than saving Senator Chafee's seat, though I am fairly certain he will lose it if we lose this vote. It is more important than Senator Snowe's seat, though I think we will lose that one as well if we lose this vote.

I think we could lose the Senate majority in 2006 if we lose this vote on ending the filibuster. It is that crucial. It is that significant. Let me tell you why I think this way.

Like I said, I appeared at thousands of gatherings over the nearly two years of my campaign. Nothing special there. We have all done it, and we all know it is necessary. And on top of that the phone calls and the interviews. No complaints, just part of the job.

Those of us who have been out on the trail in a contested race, sometimes an uphill race, and who have succeeded in the past three years, know there are two issues on the minds of Republicans and a lot of independents: Will you support the president and will you get the judges confirmed.

It is that simple. Over and over again. Will you support the president and will you get the judges confirmed?

The folks who sent us here aren't the fancy lobbyists from the Chamber or the agri-business or the oil industry. They have never been on K Street, much less officed there. They aren't the big media commentators or the editorialists.

They are ordinary, mainstream Americans, and they don't like what is going on in this town, and they especially don't like the nonsense over the judges. They know it isn't fair, and they resent deeply being told these judges are quote, out of the mainstream, which makes them--ordinary tax-paying, church-and-Rotary-attending Americans--out of the mainstream. They are hot about this. They want it to end.

You know that and I know that.

These people are not radicals. They aren't wild-eyed fanatics. They don't want impeachment or censure or anything like that at all.

But they do believe that laws should be made by legislatures and Congress, and they believe George Bush has been a good and courageous president. And they think it's fair for people to get up or down votes.

And they are very, very well informed on this subject of judges.

They are watching. They are waiting for us to do what we promised. They expect us to confirm these judges because it is the right thing to do.

They expect us to do it as well because we owe George Bush.

It is amazing how sophisticated the electorate has become on this issue. Sure, ten years ago, or even five years ago, no one much cared about what happened to judicial nominations unless it was a big showdown over the Supreme Court.

That's different now. The courts have been deciding some very big issues, and not just gay marriage and Terri Schiavo.

Hardly a day goes by that courts here and there aren't in the headlines. Voters watch and they know this, and they also know that George Bush is supposed to be able to nominate people he likes and that we are supposed to vote on them.

Remember the round-the-clock debate we had about the judges last year? Huge attention for that, and the Leader deserves credit for using that technique to get the filibuster the attention it deserved. We all can remember the mail and the calls.

So we went to the people on that issue and got behind the president.

And we won. We won big, in fact.

Now our people want results. They will not accept excuses and they won't accept some half-measure called a compromise. They want votes on nominees.

Let me be clear. I don't believe any member of this caucus is obliged to vote for any nominee they don't think should be confirmed. That's a matter for every member to decide.

But I do think we owe it to the people who sent us here, to the president, and especially to the Constitution that we end this disfigurement of the filibuster.

Everyone in this room knows this is a new thing. We don't have to explain to the media, we don't have to debate the Democrats' talking points here. When they started filibustering on ideology in 2003, they changed this body's traditions, and in a radical way. We never thought they would take it this far, but they have. And now we have to end it.

If we fail, I think we will be understood--whether or not correctly, but inevitably--understood to lack the organization and skill and resolve to deserve the majority we have won. And I think the people will take it back.

I think many of our colleagues on the ballot will suffer in 2006. Not just those who vote with the Dems on the filibuster, but even leaders of the effort to end the abuse, like Senator Santorum.

I think Senator Specter would be the first to tell you how hard Senator Santorum and the president worked for him last year, especially in the primary. They believed in the idea of a majority in the Senate and they did what they needed to do to keep that majority, and more importantly, to deserve the majority.

Now we have to display whether we deserve the majority, and that means ending this abuse of nominees.

They deserve an up-or-down vote. I say that now and if we lose the majority and the presidency in the future, I will say it then. It is the principled thing to do, and it does nothing to dilute our institution's deliberate approach to legislation or blue slips or the committee's power.

It is simply this: Judicial nominees who reach the floor deserve an up-or-down vote after an extensive debate. After the disfigured filibuster is broken, we can suggest a new, specific rule on how to deal with judicial nominees that assures plenty of time for debate, but we need to negotiate that rule with the assumption being that minorities cannot forever defeat the will of majorities on judicial nominees.

I have gone on at length because I think the stakes are high. I keep thinking about meeting after meeting when a hand would go up--all sorts of people asking the same question month after month: What about the judges?

If we get this wrong, we won't have to worry about it for a long, long time, because we will be sending many of the people in this room to an early retirement, and ourselves back into the minority. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

One final note: I want to be clear. I don't want any surprises or anyone to be misled. I will not find it possible to support any of my colleagues for reelection if they are on the other side of this issue. I have always been willing in the past to put aside differences on various issues, but on this one, I won't be able to. The folks who sent me here wouldn't stand for it, and I couldn't fairly ask them to. It is that important an issue. I am asking all of us to consider how terrible that result will be for everything we need to get done, and to vote accordingly. I hope as a result we have at least 55 votes to support the Chair's ruling, and I hope we get to it this week.

Thank you.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at

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