Oct 21, 2020
GOP Senators Court Packing Press Conference Transcript October 21
Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham held a press conference alongside other Republican senators on October 21 to discuss proposed protections against court packing. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Marco Rubio: (00:00)
… This debate was going on about the Supreme Court and the nomination. We predicted that it was the agenda of the democratic party to expand the court and pack it. That was a year and a half ago. I always chuckle when I hear people say, “Well if they move forward with Barrett, we’re going to go ahead and pack the court.” They were going to do that anyway. They were going to do that anyway. And that’s why this amendment was filed a year and a half ago. To solidify our institutions requires stability in them. And that’s why we filed, all of us, this amendment over a year and a half ago. And I don’t think you have to wait to hear directly from Joe Biden or any of the people around the country that are running for election to the Senate.
Marco Rubio: (00:39)
I don’t think you need to hear from them about whether they’ll expand the court and try to pack it. I think we already know the answer. And I think that’s become pretty apparent throughout this process. And so it’s our hope that eventually we will be able to get a vote. And if we can, we’ll be able to put them… People will have to be on the record about whether they think it’s a good idea to destabilize one of the three branches of government by a court-packing scheme that’s designed to do nothing but tilt the direction for outcome purposes. That’s not the way our systems should work. And so we’re hopeful that this calls attention to what we think is coming and that we can take action on it before it’s too late. And now, I’ll turn it over to my colleagues who may want to add to that. I don’t know if the chairman wants to.
Lindsey Graham : (01:23)
Number one, I think… Let me take this off.
Speaker 3: (01:28)
You got to put it on.
Speaker 4: (01:28)
Senator, do you mind? I’m sorry.
Lindsey Graham : (01:29)
Speaker 4: (01:30)
Lindsey Graham : (01:32)
Here’s the deal. This was done a year and a half ago. I can’t think of a more destabilizing event for America than change the number of judges on the Supreme Court every election cycle. Because it becomes a winner take all for the court. The traditional debate has been, who fills vacancies? Liberal, conservative? It’s never been about, how many will you have? And you’ll eventually destroy the judiciary as we know it. We’re screwed up enough on our side of the constitutional aisle, where we’re fighting with each other constantly. So I just want to urge all of my colleagues to support Senator Rubio’s efforts to solidify that we’re sticking with nine. Nine has served us well. I know people are mad. Judges are very emotional.
Lindsey Graham : (02:25)
But the thing I can tell you about the court is you never know. There are a lot of criticism about Roberts on our side. That just comes with life tenure. My belief is that life tenure is a good thing. My belief is that nine has served the nation well. And if we go down the road that they’re talking about, that will destroy the independence of the judiciary. And finally, will it happen or not? Senator Feinstein’s a good person. She has served California well, I believe. She’s somebody you can do business with. She approaches issues from a progressive point of view, but you can find common ground.
Lindsey Graham : (03:11)
What’s happened to her by showing just some human kindness should make us all concerned. Can you imagine what would happen to a Democrat if they voted for Barrett? I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan, and I’m still standing. I don’t know if that’s possible in the modern democratic party. So a word of warning here, if you think they’re kidding, you’re making a mistake. I’d hate to be the Senator that said, “No, I don’t want to pack the court,” on the democratic side. Because if you think it was bad for Senator Feinstein, your world would come to end politically. And we need to get the fever to break. And the best way for the fever to break is for the country to make a decision to put in the constitution, nine is the right number. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (04:07)
So I support what Senator Rubio is putting forward. This is an unprecedented power grab. What Senator Rubio is doing here is to only stop this unprecedented power grab by the Democrats. Moving the Supreme Court to 11 or 13 justices is exactly what Chuck Schumer will do if he gets control of the Senate, combined with adding two more senators for the District of Columbia, with statehood, and two more for Puerto Rico, with statehood, would then eliminate the Supreme Court from being the check and balance on the power of the United States Senate. And to stop what will be a radical far left agenda put forth by Chuck Schumer and the Democrats. Second, this is an attack on the Montana way of life. When Justice Ginsburg passed away, on the front page of the Great Falls Tribune, one of Montana’s larger newspapers, it said Justice Ginsburg vacancy puts the second amendment on center stage.
Speaker 5: (05:11)
This will be an attack on the second amendment. We’ll also show what happened when you put liberal activist judges on the bench, as we’ve seen in Montana, where it was a liberal judge that stopped the Keystone pipeline. It’s liberal judges that stopped timber projects, that don’t allow our logs to be in our forest thinning then to prevent catastrophic wildfires. And third, this absolutely undermines the separation of powers that our founding fathers envisioned. We have a 151-year precedent in this country of protecting the Supreme Court with nine justices. Our founding fathers would roll over in their graves if they saw what’s happening and in discussion right now by Chuck Schumer and the Democrats.
Speaker 6: (05:58)
Last week, we had the opportunity to have Judge Amy Coney Barrett in front of us and the judiciary committee. And what was abundantly clear to those of us that sat through those hearings was that she is very well qualified. She is a very fair jurist. And she has been commended by liberals and conservatives across the spectrum prior to being named as the nominee for Supreme Court justice. So we know that she will be a fair Supreme Court justice. But what we see coming from the left is that because they cannot attack her on her qualifications, they know that we will be moving forward with this nomination, that they now have the idea, and even as Senator Rubio had stated, they had this idea months before Justice Ginsburg had passed, that their idea then would be to pack the court or expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court.
Speaker 6: (06:58)
What they want to do, they being the Democrats, is to establish a super legislature. Now, we all should be very afraid of that. This is our third branch of government. Our judicial system is at risk by giving them power beyond what is currently established. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who I greatly admire, had said that nine is the right number. We have had nine Supreme Court justices for now over 150 years. So I’m very supportive of these efforts to pass this amendment, pass this resolution and enshrine our rich traditions and history permanently. So again, let’s come together, let’s support this resolution, and let’s make sure that we are not creating a super legislature.
Ben Sasse: (08:01)
Three things I’ll just underscore. First of all, thank you all for covering this now. Marco and I and these others have been pushing on this for a year and a half. We need to do more to restore institutional trust in our country and in our government. This isn’t new for us since it’s become a campaign issue in recent weeks. A lot of us have been pushing for this for some time. So I’m glad that you’re all starting to cover it now. But again, this shouldn’t be interpreted just through the lenses of this moment and this election. We have a lot of work to do rebuilding and restoring institutional trust. Second of all, this act that Senator Schumer, if he would become the majority leader, wants to advance is really to nuke two of three branches of government. At a time when you have declining public trust, the conversation that is being had among democratic activist circles right now is about nuking two of three branches.
Ben Sasse: (08:52)
This is about turning the Senate into just another House of Representatives, a simple majoritarian body that on 51/49, 49/51 swings every 24 months could try to remake more and more of American life. That is the opposite of the founder’s vision for what the Senate was for. The purpose of the Senate is to enable long debate, deliberation and to allow passions to cool. So the idea of nuking the Senate, ending its deliberative structure for the purposes of nuking the Supreme Court is a much bigger deal than is being publicly understood right now. So many of the conversations that dominate political cable news are always about the presidency. They’re always about Donald Trump. But the reality is the most important issue on the ballot on November 3rd in America is for control of the United States Senate and the question of whether it will remain a deliberative body and whether we will have three branches of government that continue to check and balance one another.
Ben Sasse: (09:48)
And third, all of us, not just the Republicans who are up here today, but all 100 Democrat and Republican senators have taken an oath of office to a constitutional system that is delicate and fragile. The purpose the founders had in mind with limited government was to recognize that the center of American life is not in government. The center of American life is the neighborhoods where Americans are living and working and worshiping and raising their kids and coaching little league. The center of life in America is not Washington DC. And the politicization of more of life and then the majoritarian politicization of more of life in Washington in the Capitol will not be good for American peace and comity and the long-term deescalation of the polarization that we face.
Ben Sasse: (10:32)
So I’m grateful that all of you are covering this issue. I think it’s critically important. And if we head down this pathway of a majoritarian Senate that changes the size and structure of the Supreme Court every election, you’re not just going to have 11 or 13 or 15 Supreme Court justices 12 months from now. You’re going to head to a Banana Republic structure where every time there’s an election, people are talking about trying to politicize the judiciary and turn it into the super legislature. In that world, it would be much better for judges to be publicly and popularly elected than to pretend that they’re somehow still the apolitical branch of government.
Ben Sasse: (11:09)
The reason we have justices that wear robes is because they’re symbolizing the cloaking of their partisan preferences. If you’re going to have judges that are just super legislators, then they shouldn’t have lifetime tenure. They should have to stand for election because it’s the only way the American people could have accountability over them. Our constitutional system with two political branches where people stand for election and an apolitical branch is a brilliant structure, and we should fight to maintain that less politicized, less majoritarian structure. Thanks.
Speaker 8: (11:43)
Well, I’m really pleased to be here with my colleagues, and I want to particularly thank Senator Rubio for his leadership of over a year on this very important issue. And it certainly has come to light in this campaign season. But anticipating this and knowing what’s the best for the American people I think is very emblematic in what we’re trying to say here today. And that is to depoliticize our judicial system, to not try to restructure. And that’s what the Democrats are saying now. They’re talking about restructuring. Well, why aren’t they saying packing? Because that sounds worse, but that’s actually what they want to do. They want to pack the court with a preordained decision to already say what that decision would be, because it would be in the political realm. And so I think the American people reject packing as they would reject restructuring because they’re actually one in the same.
Speaker 8: (12:37)
The other thing I would say, and it’s been pointed out from my colleagues more than a few times, the sensitivities of the checks and balances of our system are something to marvel at. To watch how through the 150 years of nine people on our Supreme Court, we’ve had the ebbs and flows of the very impactful decisions from the Supreme Court, and how they have moved from maybe right of center, left of center as the times and as the policies would dictate. And I think that’s what you want. I think you want a thoughtful, impartial set of justice to judge us as policy makers, to judge the president as the executive. And every check and balance that the court brings to us keeps us from veering too far from what the American people really want. So nine justices, we’ve had it for over 150 years. It’s worked pretty doggone good, I think. So let’s just put that into the constitution and make sure it’s permanent. Thank you.
Martha McSally: (13:40)
Okay. Well, thanks. I want to say thanks to Senator Rubio again for over a year ago raising this issue. The Democrats have demonstrated they’ve wanted to pack the court. They’ve now just found an excuse. I just met with Judge Barrett, and I am so inspired by her. This truly is her calling, and she is a gift to our country when she is confirmed to serve in the Supreme Court. Look, I put my life on the line for our freedoms and way of life. Joni did as well. Those who served in the military. An oath of office to the constitution, willing to give it all in order to protect America and its freedoms. And what these Democrats want to do, what the left is demanding is to fundamentally destroy and transform the foundations of our country, the institutions of our country, at all costs. It doesn’t matter.
Martha McSally: (14:28)
It’s all about gaining power at all costs. That’s not what America is about. That’s not what America was founded on. That’s not what the men and women who serve with me, who didn’t come back, gave their lives for. And those who came back with the wounds of war. That’s not what I put my life on the line for. Americans want stability right now. They want to be able to trust their institutions more, not less. And they don’t want politicians who are on power grabs to somehow get their way. The judiciary branch, the founding fathers were very clear about its role. And Amy Coney Barrett gave everyone in America a lesson on that in her hearings last week.
Martha McSally: (15:02)
Every school child in America, every classroom and every adult should have tuned into her part of her answers, not the campaigning that was going on on the other side. And it’s a reminder to all of us of how important we are at this moment in time, that we cannot allow one extreme element to fundamentally destroy and transform our institutions like this. Justice Ginsburg said it best herself, nine’s a good number. Let’s solidify that in our constitution, provide more stability and more opportunities for people to meet their full potential and live out their God given freedoms the way our founding fathers intended it to be.
Thom Tillis: (15:44)
Well, Senator Rubio, thank you for advancing this. Thank you all for being here. I agree with what all my colleagues have said. I want to talk about the probability of this occurring. Two weeks ago, Chuck Schumer stood on a stage with AOC and said he wasn’t going to waste the majority. We all know that AOC, who could potentially be a Democrat senatorial primary candidate in a couple of years in the state of New York, is demanding that we expand and pack the courts. They are demanding that we do the nuclear option on the legislative filibuster. So if anybody here thinks that this is a hypothetical or a political stunt to raise awareness of this issue, this is a clear and present danger, depending upon what happens in November. I believe that Chuck Schumer will reduce the threshold to a simple majority. I believe that Chuck Schumer will move forward with an expansion of the Supreme Court.
Thom Tillis: (16:35)
And then after it’s expanded, it will be packed with liberal activist judges, and the cycle will go on and on and on. We need to raise the threshold for expanding the Supreme Court, and this is a step in the right direction. But the American people need to know this is a real threat. And dependent upon the outcome of the election, it’s one that we will rue the day if in fact Chuck Schumer delivers on his promise. The last thing I’ll leave you with is the vice president. Vice President Biden has said, “I’ll tell you my position on packing the courts after the election.” He’s doing one of two things. He’s either not telling the radical left that he wouldn’t expand the Supreme Court, or he’s not telling the moderate left that he would. We deserve an answer to that as well. But I do believe that this is a good step in the right direction. Marco, I thank you for your leadership.
Marco Rubio: (17:30)
Everyone’s abandoning ship here. No, if you need to go, that’s okay.
Speaker 4: (17:33)
I kind of want to bounce off of what Senator Sasse had said, which was to do something like this takes away the comity of the Senate, how it works together. And if this is your concern that Senator Schumer would do this if they got majority, don’t you think it’s predicated upon the fact that Republicans right now are pushing through a Supreme Court justice and taking away some of those norms that you do have? And secondly, to follow that, there actually isn’t a plan right now by Senator Schumer. They said the option’s on the table, but there’s no plan. There’s no nothing. This is not a thing.
Marco Rubio: (18:08)
Well, on the second… Sure. On the second point, if it’s not a thing, they should say it. Just come out and say, “No, we don’t want to do it.”
Speaker 4: (18:14)
Vice President Biden said that there’s a better thing than packing, which is legislating.
Marco Rubio: (18:17)
Well, again, not just Vice President Biden or former Vice President Biden, but multiple candidates refuse to take a position on this issue, including those running for Senate seats around the country. They just won’t answer the question. And what Vice President Biden has said is that he wants to wait and see how this nomination plays out before he lets voters know before election day. So ultimately, my whole point is if you believe the court needs to be expanded, say it. I can tell you this. All the energy in the democratic party that comes from radical elements in that party right now, and all the money that you see being poured into it, and all the activism, all is demanding it.
Marco Rubio: (18:51)
So I filed this a year and a half ago, before there was a vacancy for this seat, before Judge Barrett was being considered by this. It’s unrelated to that issue. It’s broader to the point that we need institutional stability for our system of government to function. Meaning we have a determined number of House seats based on districts apportioned via the population of the states. We have two senators per state. And there needs to be some stability. It cannot be that we decide to change the number of people on the court every time the outcomes that you’re getting from the court do not favor your particular policy preference because that’s not the purpose of the court. What’s that?
Speaker 4: (19:27)
Neither side has ever done that. It hasn’t been done. So why the concern now?
Marco Rubio: (19:30)
Because they won’t say they’re not for it, and because there are plenty of activists in the democratic party, including prominent voices in the democratic party, that are asking for it and demanding it. Not now, a year and a half ago.
Speaker 4: (19:42)
But activists have asked for it for years.
Marco Rubio: (19:42)
The difference is that you now have candidates that either won’t take a position on it or are avoiding it. If it’s as clear cut as you’s claim, why not just say it? Why can’t they just say, “We will not do this”? Well, I say let’s give them a vote. Let’s put it up for a vote before we leave here, after the vote on the confirmation, and let’s put everybody on the record to state whether they’re for it or not. It’d be pretty simple.
Speaker 4: (20:05)
Is it not a level of fear-mongering, Senator, to say this?
Marco Rubio: (20:06)
If your predicate is correct that no one’s proposing this, no one’s considering it, then they can put that on the record and they can vote. And it would exemplify that position. But here’s the bottom line is, the fact of the matter is they won’t say it. They will not commit not to doing it. And there’s a reason for that.
Speaker 4: (20:20)
But Vice President Biden did say it. He said there’s legislating. He says that’s the better option. He has said it.
Marco Rubio: (20:25)
The last time I heard him speak about it, and that includes in the town hall very recently where he was pressed on it, he said that he wants to wait and see how this process right now plays out before he makes a pronouncement on it. That’s what he said. And I watched the debate, the original debate, where he refused to take a position on it. He had a chance to do it then. But it’s not just him. There’s the activism in that party is demanding this. And there’s no way that they’re not going to be able to not speak to those voices and make those voices happy if they take the majority. But bottom line is, if they’re not for it, that’s great. Then why aren’t they co-sponsoring my amendment? I don’t think we have a single democratic co-sponsor to my amendment.
Speaker 4: (21:02)
Doesn’t it tell you something-
Marco Rubio: (21:02)
So we’re opening the invitation now for any Democrat who thinks this is a bad idea, they should co-sponsor our amendment so we can all be on the same page.
Thom Tillis: (21:10)
Before we go to another topic, you should also keep in mind that I was one of 61 senators that signed a letter to say that I would never vote for the nuclear option on the legislative filibuster. Now there are people who signed that letter just a couple of years ago who have said publicly, “Now may be the time.” So go back and read that letter, go to every member who signed it, ask them where they are today. And then you can determine whether or not they’re still a threat. Other questions.
Marco Rubio: (21:33)
Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 11: (21:36)
So Senator Sasse talked about nuking the Senate, Democrats would nuke the Senate if they came into power. How do you make that argument considering the past several years there’s been a lot of precedent-breaking norms that have happened in the Senate, including the 51-seat threshold for a Supreme Court justice? And we can go back to Harry Reid. But why should things change now? And secondly, to Senator Tillis, is this your best argument now in your own reelection race is to make sure that there is a Republican check on the presidency in the Senate?
Marco Rubio: (22:10)
Well, if I can just answer the first question. On the first question, these are two separate issues here, the filibuster and the number of members of the Supreme Court. On the number of members of the Supreme Court, which is what my amendment is about, it’s not about the filibuster. It’s about that. That’s about institutional stability. On the issue of the filibuster, look, I thought it was a terrible thing for Harry Reid to do what he did. And I thought it was unfortunate for the Senate that it followed up by ultimately becoming the Supreme Court as well. But that speaks to the decay of the institution and the way we behave. Going back 20-25 years, you had controversial nominations, but they didn’t get filibustered. They still got their votes. That has changed. The nature of our politics has changed the Senate.
Marco Rubio: (22:50)
The reason why I’m against it from the legislative standpoint, changing it on the legislative standpoint, which is what I believe Senator Sasse is speaking to, is because if all it takes is a simple majority in the house and Senate to pass legislation, it undermines the very purpose of the Senate in the first place. The reason why the founders created a Senate is to have a place that moves slower and more deliberate in their thinking. And that’s why I’ve never signed on to any… Even listen, I’ll admit to you that anytime you’re on the losing side of issues, the losing side argues, “Let’s get rid of the filibuster,” because we have people on our side, on the activists, that said, “Get rid of the filibuster.” But what I explain to people and ultimately what I hope everybody understands is that the reason why the system was designed this way is because the Senate was intended to be a place that slowed things down. Because they knew that sometimes the passions of the moment would overcome the politics and you’d end up making bad decisions.
Marco Rubio: (23:38)
The filibuster is an expression of that. It is a Senate rule. It can be changed, but it is a Senate rule. That’s very different. I think it’s important, but it’s very different from the number of justices on the court. Because if we’re going to get into a position where every time someone wins the majority and they don’t like the direction of the court, they just add two more members to change the balance, we will wind up one day with 25, 30, 35 justices, the kinds of things you see in chaotic countries. And so that’s a terrible idea. And that’s what my constitution amendment is about.
Thom Tillis: (24:09)
Before I run, my best argument is what I’ve done in the last five years or the last 14 years that I’ve been in office. Turning the North Carolina economy around, voting for tax cuts and JOBS Act, which actually created an economy before COVID that was historic, record low unemployment. That’s the argument that I’m making to the people of North Carolina. While at the same time, I have an opponent that’s got to try and clear up a number of things, up to and including an investigation with the Department of the Army. Thank you, Marco.
Speaker 12: (24:36)
Senator Tillis, do you think you need to actually get a relief package done though?
Thom Tillis: (24:40)
Well, we need to get a relief package done. I had somebody ask me this today. This isn’t about politics. This is about people who have been expecting it for months. A month ago, I voted on a CARES package followup, and my opponent said he would vote against it. And I also said that we need to do more. Individual payments to people who have fallen into poverty, absolutely. Funding for states that have been affected, can demonstrate they have, absolutely. Funding or bailing out California and New York, the states of Schumer and Feinstein, absolutely not. They were in trouble to begin with. But if we can find a way to provide resources to any state that can demonstrate they’ve been affected, that should be a part of the followup to the CARES Act as well. Extending unemployment, providing funding for education so that they can open up safely, providing funding for vaccines, providing liability protections before we have an epidemic of lawsuits are all things that we need to vote on, and I’m prepared to stay here through election day to vote on it again. Thank you all.
Marco Rubio: (25:32)
Thanks for covering this.
Speaker 13: (25:35)
Thank you for wearing the mask. Appreciate it.
Marco Rubio: (25:37)
I always wear the mask.
Speaker 13: (25:38)
Marco Rubio: (25:41)
I even got a bigger, better mask now.