Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
The Pressure Strategy
Thursday, April 7, 2016
We have a unique opportunity for the American people to have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court. The American people should be afforded the opportunity to weigh in on this matter.
Our side believes very strongly that the people deserve to be heard and they should be allowed to decide, through their vote for the next President, the type of person who should be on the Supreme Court.
As I’ve stated previously, this is a reasonable approach, it is a fair approach and it is the historical approach – one echoed by then-chairman Biden and Senators Schumer and other senators.
The other side has been talking a great deal about a so-called “pressure campaign” to try to get members to change positions.
It’s no secret that the White House strategy is to put pressure on me and other Republicans in the hopes that we can be worn down and ultimately agree to hold hearings on the nominee.
This “pressure campaign,” which is targeted at me and a handful of my colleagues, is based on the supposition that I will “crack” and move forward on consideration of President Obama’s pick.
This strategy has failed to recognize that I’m no stranger to political pressure and strong-arm tactics. Not necessarily from Democrat presidents, probably more from Republican presidents.
When I make a decision based on sound principle, I’m not about to flip-flop because the left has organized a “pressure campaign.”
As many of my colleagues and constituents know, I’ve done battle with administrations of both parties.
I’ve fought over irresponsible budgets, waste and fraud, and policy disagreements.
I’ve made tough decisions, and stuck with them, regardless of whatever pressure was applied.
The so-called pressure being applied to me now is nothing compared to what I’ve withstood from heavy-handed White House political operations in the past. Let me say, by the way, most of that has come from Republican White Houses.
Just to give you a few examples –
In 1981, as a new member of the Senate, I voted against some of President Reagan’s first budget proposals, because they failed to balance.
I recall very specifically a Budget Committee mark-up of President Reagan’s first budget in April of 1981.
I was one of three Republicans to vote against that resolution because it did not put us on a path to a balanced budget.
You can imagine when a budget has to come out on a party-line vote, you can’t lose three Republicans. And three Republicans who were elected in 1980 on a promise to balance the budget did not go along with it. And what a loss it was for this new President Reagan that his budget might not get adopted by the Budget Committee.
We were under immense pressure to act on the President’s budget, regardless of the deficits it would cause. But, we stood on principle and didn’t succumb to the pressure.
Just as an example, right after that vote, when it wasn’t voted out of the Budget Committee, I was home on a spring recess. I remember calls from the White House. I remember threats from the Chamber of Commerce-even interrupting my town meetings.
I also led the charge to freeze spending and end the Reagan defense build-up as a way to get the federal budget deficit under control.
In 1984, I teamed up with Senator Biden and Senator Kassebaum of Kansas to propose a freeze of the defense budget that would have cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the annual deficits.
At the time, it was known as the Kassebaum, Grassley, Biden, or KGB defense freeze.
We were going to make sure that across the board the budget was defensible.
For months, I endured pressure from the Reagan administration and Republican colleagues that argued a freeze on defense spending would constitute unilateral disarmament.
President Reagan had put together a less-aggressive deficit reduction plan. We didn’t think it went far enough.
My bipartisan plan was attacked for being dangerous and causing draconian cuts to the defense budget.
I knew it was realistic and responsible.
I didn’t back down. We forced a vote in the Budget Committee and on May 2, 1984, we forced a vote on the Senate floor.
Although we weren’t successful, this effort required the Senate and the nation to have a debate about the growing defense budget, including waste and inefficiencies at the Pentagon, and the growing federal fiscal deficits.
Despite the weeks-long pressure from conservatives and the Reagan Administration, I did not back down, because I knew the policy was on my side.
In this process, I stood up to pressure from President Reagan, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator John Tower, and many others.
I remember a meeting at the White House where I reminded the President that he had been talking through the campaign about the Welfare queens fraudulently on the budget. It happens that I reminded him that there were Defense queens as well.
I started doing oversight of the Defense Department. It wasn’t long before evidence of waste and fraud began appearing.
We uncovered contractors that billed the defense department $435 for a claw hammer, $750 for toilet seats, $695 for an ash tray.
We found coffee pots that cost $7,600.
I had no problem finding Democrats to join my oversight efforts back then.
But, it’s interesting how hard it is to find bipartisan help when doing oversight of the current Democrat administration.
Nevertheless, on May 2, 1985, after a year of work to make the case that the defense department needed structural reforms and slower spending growth, I was successful.
My amendment to freeze the defense budget and allow for increases based on inflation was agreed to when a motion to table failed by a 48-51 vote.
A majority of Republicans opposed me, and a majority of Democrats were with me. That didn’t matter, because I knew we were doing the right thing.
I went against my own party, and my own President to hold the Pentagon accountable, and I never backed off.
I had a similar experience with President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
In January of 1991, the Senate debated a resolution to authorize the use of U.S. Armed Forces to remove Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.
I opposed it because I felt the economic and diplomatic sanctions that I voted for should have been given more time to work.
I was not ready to give up on sanctions in favor of war.
In the end, I was one of just two Republicans, along with Senator Hatfield, who opposed the resolution.
I was under pressure from President Bush, Vice President Quayle and White House chief of staff John Sununu.
I was even pressured by Iowa’s Governor, Terry Branstad.
I heard from a lot of Iowans, particular Republicans, who were disappointed, and even angry with my position.
Some were even considering a public rebuke because of my vote.
Being one of just two Republicans, it was difficult to differ with a Republican President on such a major issue.
But, as I stated at the time, my decision was above any partisanship.
It was a decision of conscience rather than a matter of Republican versus Democrat.
After a tremendous amount of soul-searching, I did what I thought was right, regardless of the political pressure.
The same is true today with regard to the Supreme Court vacancy.
Under President George W. Bush, I faced another dilemma.
The President and the Republican congressional leadership determined that they wanted to provide $1.6 trillion in tax relief in 2001.
I was the chairman of the Finance Committee. The problem is, we had a 50-50 Senate at the time. The parties’ numbers were equal in the Senate and on the Finance Committee.
I had two members on my side who were reluctant to support a huge tax cut because they had concerns about deficits and the debt.
And, as we saw a few years later, their concerns were not totally unwarranted. But, at the time, the administration and leadership would have nothing to do with it.
Except that the President wanted $1.6 trillion of tax decreases. But obviously the President and the White House weren’t thinking anything about what Republicans might vote against it. And when you have a 50-50 Senate, you can’t lose a lot of Republicans.
After very difficult negotiations, I finally rounded up enough votes to support $1.3 trillion in tax relief.
A hailstorm of criticism followed. There were Republican House members who held press conferences denouncing the fact that we weren’t able to achieve the whole $1.6 trillion.
Now, those House members were more professional in their criticism than we witness almost every day from the current Minority Leader.
But, it was still a very contentious and difficult period that included both the budget and reconciliation process.
Minority Leader Reid has also recently brought up the pressure I came under in regard to Obamacare back in 2009.
Of course, his version is his usual attempt to rewrite the actual history.
As the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee at the time, I was involved in very in-depth negotiations to try to come up with a healthcare solution.
We started in November 2008. We had negotiations between three Republicans and three Democrats on the Finance Committee. We met hours and hours, almost totally time consuming. So we met in November 2008, through mid-September 2009, and then they decided that they — the other side — decided they ought to go political and not worry about Republicans.
The Minority Leader, in his usual inaccurate statement of the facts, has tried to say Republicans walked out of those negotiations.
The fact is, we were given a deadline and told if we didn’t agree to the latest draft of the bill, then the Democrats would have to move on.
And I would ask anybody in the Senate who wants some reference on this to talk to Senator Snowe or Senator Enzi. I was the other Republican. Talk to Senator Baucus. Talk to Senator Conrad. And the then-Senator from New Mexico. The President called six of us down to the White House in early August 2009.
The first question I got was, would you, Senator Grassley, be willing to go along with two or three Republicans to have a bipartisan bill with Obamacare. And I said, Mr. President, the answer is no because, what do you think we have been working on for nine months? We have been working trying to get a broad bipartisan agreement. It’s something like 70-75 votes that we’re trying to get if you really want to change social policy and have it stick. We didn’t abandon this until 2009, but my idea is that probably it was that meeting at the White House in early August 2009, where this President decided we don’t want to mess around with those Republicans any more, we’ve got 60 votes, we’re going to move ahead.
Well, that happened in September. The fact is we were given that deadline and we were shoved out of the room.
So, when we didn’t bow to this pressure and agree to their demands, it ended up being a partisan document, and that’s why it still doesn’t have majority support of the American people. I want the Minority Leader to know that’s what happened, not what he described a couple of weeks ago.
Eventually, as we all know, the former Majority Leader, now Minority Leader, had his staff rewrite the bill in secret in the backrooms of his leadership offices.
And, we ended up with the disaster called Obamacare we have today.
The Senate Minority leader also recently proclaimed that rather than follow Leader McConnell, “Republicans are sprinting in the opposite direction.”
He also wishfully claimed that the Republican façade was cracking on the issue.
Senator Schumer fancifully stated, “Because of the pressure, Republicans are beginning to change.”
You can almost hear the ruby slippers on the other side clicking while they wish this narrative were true.
The fact is, the pressure they’ve applied thus far has had no impact on this Senator’s principled position.
Our side knows and believes that what we’re doing is right, and when that’s the case, it’s not hard to withstand the outrage and pressure they’ve manufactured.
This pressure pales in comparison to what I’ve endured and withstood from both Democrats and Republicans in the past.