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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 30, 2003 (Full Transcript)
12:32 P.M. EDT
And, finally, yesterday, Senate Democrats announced that they will filibuster another one of President Bush's very qualified nominees -- in this case, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, who is the nominee for the 5th Circuit. Miguel Estrada has also been the subject of a Senate filibuster. They were both originally nominated on May 9, 2001, and have been waiting almost two years for a vote. Both were rated well-qualified from the American Bar Association. That is the highest possible rating that the American Bar Association gives. It is also, according to Democrats, the gold standard that they would use to judge whether nominees were qualified. Both enjoy strong bipartisan support within their states. Both have majority votes available, bipartisan, on the floor of the Senate if the obstruction were to cease.
The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to hold an up or down vote on all judicial nominees within a reasonable amount of time. But some Democrats have abandoned that responsibility in favor of partisan politics and obstructionism. The Constitution is clear: A majority is required to confirm judicial nominees. A minority of Senate Democrats are effectively changing the law with their obstructionist tactics. The President's nominees are highly-qualified and not only do they deserve a vote, they deserve to be confirmed. The President again calls on the Senate to end these obstructionist tactics and to allow a vote on these two nominees.
QUESTION: And then, on the judicial nominations, where precisely in the Constitution is the Senate required to hold an up or down vote on every judicial nominee?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said that the Constitution is clear, a majority is required to confirm judicial nominees. The Senate process has now moved to a point where it's becoming almost a matter of routine --
QUESTION: You said that they were required to hold an up or down vote.
MR. FLEISCHER: I said, the Constitution is clear, a majority is required to confirm --
QUESTION: Just prior to that, you said that they are required to hold an up or down vote.
MR. FLEISCHER: You can check the transcript, but when I cited on the Constitution, I said just what I said verbatim on the Constitution.
QUESTION: Ari, on judicial nominations, it seems the issue is utterly gridlocked. Does the President have some ideas of how to get this thing kind of moving again, beyond just having tantrums?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will continue to speak out and make the case. He will continue to stand strong, shoulder-to- shoulder, by his nominees, because he believes they are qualified. But if you really want to measure what's going on here, I think you have to measure the will of a bipartisan majority versus the role of a slender obstructionist minority. And that's the problem when people want to employ the 60-vote device that the Senate makes available to its members to force their ideology on a majority.
And what's happening now is that there are a few liberal Democrats who want to enforce their ideology on a bipartisan majority that can govern, that can appoint judicial nominees. There are a bipartisan majority of votes for Priscilla Owen. There are a bipartisan majority of votes for Miguel Estrada. They are being blocked and obstructed by a liberal, partisan, obstructionist minority.
QUESTION: Two questions. One a follow on your colloquy with Terry. Your exact words at the top were, "The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to hold an up or down vote."
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Are you now walking yourself back from that, and saying that you didn't mean to say that? Or are you saying that there is -- are you saying that there is something in the Constitution that requires the Senate to hold an up or down vote on every judicial nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said -- you're correct, I said, the Senate has a constitutional responsibility to hold an up or down vote on all judicial nominees within a reasonable time, and that's because advice and consent is the prerogative of the Senate, and it is to be given.
QUESTION: Prerogative of the Senate. They're a co-equal branch of government that interprets their own constitutional responsibility.
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, if the Senate made the decision that they do not want to seat anybody in the federal court system, it would be a constitutional crisis.
QUESTION: That's not the decision they're making.
MR. FLEISCHER: But there is a vacancy crisis in the Senate. It is uniquely the role of the Senate, under the Constitution, to confirm judges. And if the Senate engages in filibusters for the confirmation of judges, then clearly the nation would not be well served.
QUESTION: The question is, is there something in the Constitution that requires an up or down vote on every nomination, because as you know, there are many judicial nominations that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Only the fact that if the Senate doesn't do it, nobody else will. And so, therefore, the President calls on the Senate to exercise its constitutional prerogative to confirm his nominees.
QUESTION: But it's not in the Constitution, correct? There's nothing in the Constitution --
MR. FLEISCHER: They have a responsibility to hold an up or down vote. Nobody else, other than the Senate, per the Constitution, has that responsibility. Now, it is certainly the right of the Senate to walk away from their responsibilities. But I don't back off at all from saying that under the Constitution, the Senate has that responsibility.
QUESTION: That's different from saying they have to hold an up or down vote on every nomination --
MR. FLEISCHER: They have a responsibility to hold an up or down vote.
QUESTION: It all depends on what your definition of the word, "responsibility" is.
QUESTION: Ari, back on the judicial nominations, now. A new controversy may be cropping up because the two Maryland senators are concerned about the Claude Allen nomination. Grant you, they might not have voted for Owen and Estrada anyway, but they're upset about the Claude Allen nomination because he's a Virginian, and they consider that to be a Maryland seat on the 4th Circuit. Does the President have any feeling of obligation to hold to those kinds of gentlemen's agreements?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we always try to work with various changing types of requests from senators for consideration. And it's a process that we try to work very collegially with the Senate. So we'll just continue to work on behalf of all the President's nominees with all those involved.
QUESTION: Would he not consider that to be a Maryland seat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look at the specifics of it to see if I can offer you more on it.
QUESTION: Back on the road map, isn't the goal to have the first phase completed by next month? And is that really a realistic expectation considering that you're calling for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian occupied territories?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the framework and the road map does outline certain time periods, the key one being the creation of an independent Palestinian state in 2005 that lives in peace and security with their neighbor, Israel. And all events leading up to that help to support that goal. What's going to happen now is we'll see how actively and how quickly the parties can work together to make all of this happen. We'll see what the exact time table is.