Cloture Motion

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 5, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, would the Senator yield for a question?


Mr. NELSON. I say to my friend, the Senator from Rhode Island, would it be fair to sum up the Senator's statement of what is happening to the planet by saying that the additional heat is prohibited from radiating out into space and is trapped by the greenhouse gases, 90 percent of which is absorbed by the oceans, and as the ocean water heats up, the volume rises, and thus, sea levels rise, and there is an increased heating up of the entire Earth's temperature; is that a true statement?


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, would the Senator yield for a further question?


Mr. NELSON. I say to the Senator from Rhode Island, since it is documented over time that the average annual temperature of the Earth is rising and we see in statistics the measurements of temperature, is it not true that scientists tell us that there is a temperature some 4 degrees-plus Fahrenheit more beyond which there is no return for the Earth continuing to heat? Is that a true statement?


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, if the Senator will further yield just for a concluding statement, the Senator from Rhode Island has outlined exactly what is happening in the State of Florida with the rising sea levels, the intrusion of saltwater into the fresh water, the ferocious and highly intense hurricanes. He has also outlined the threat to property values and the normal financial commerce of building buildings and houses that now, along the coastline, may well be threatened in the near future.

I thank the Senator for his recitation this evening.


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, I have a couple of subjects to talk about, and the first one is that all of us in the Senate have just attended a most moving State funeral in the National Cathedral for the late President George H.W. Bush.

There have been many accolades, and so much of it was said so beautifully, so eloquently, and so movingly today by the speakers at the service. I just want the Senate record to reflect one little vignette that I think underscores the kind of compassion and goodness of the man, George H.W. Bush.

Many years ago, when this Senator was a young Congressman, I had the privilege of serving with former Senator and then-Congressman Claude Pepper, a fellow who had risen to the heights of political power in the 1930s during the Depression, became a champion of the little people, and then, as he transitioned to the House of Representatives, became known as ``Mr. Senior Citizen'' and the protector of Medicare and Social Security.

Many times in the Reagan administration, he was a constant irritant to the Presidential administration. Those two Irishmen knew they had their differences, but they knew when to set aside their differences for the sake of the country.

That, too, was carried over by the then-Vice President who became President--President Bush. An example of George Bush's humanity was in the late 1980s. The Florida delegation got an emergency call to go to Walter Reed army hospital because it was the final hours for Senator, then-Congressman, Claude Pepper. By the time we got to the hospital, they were proceeding to get Claude into a wheelchair. He had come out of a deep sleep--very possibly a coma--and he was being wheeled into the waiting room.

Who should appear but President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush because the word had gotten to them that Claude Pepper was about to pass on from this life into the heavenly life. The President decided to make that a real occasion, so he joined everybody who had gathered about Senator Pepper. Claude was actually the master of ceremonies, greeting everybody and introducing this one to the other one: Mr. President, this is so-and-so. It was an extraordinary scene.

President Bush, who knew this fellow was his political opponent, but he had been such a substantial part of American political history, said: Claude, I have something I want to produce and I want to present to you on behalf of a grateful Nation, on behalf of your public service. President Bush bent down and put around Senator Pepper's neck the Medal of Freedom. Naturally, there wasn't a dry eye among those of us who were there.

It is another little vignette in the life of George H.W. Bush that shows the humanity, the care, and the concern for his fellow man that was exhibited that day in Walter Reed army hospital.

I wanted to share that little vignette, which is appropriate today after such a moving service over at the National Cathedral.

Voting Rights

Mr. President, I rise to speak about the importance of the sacred right to vote.

In the tumultuous days of the 1960s, on a hot afternoon, I watched as a law student on a grainy black-and-white TV as Dr. King delivered his memorable ``I Have a Dream'' speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His soaring, spiritually laced speech challenged us to commit our lives to ensuring that the promises of American democracy were available, not just for the privileged few but for ``all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.''

``Now is the time,'' Dr. King urged, ``to make real the promises of democracy.''

He stressed that the central promise made to the citizens in a democracy is the right to vote and to have that vote counted.

Half a century has passed, and our country has changed with the times, but one thing has not changed. The right to vote for ``all of God's children'' in America is still under assault.

Unbelievably, we are not so very far from the problems of 1963. Despite the passage of time and landmark civil and voting rights legislation, five decades later there is still considerable voter suppression in this country. In fact, several States have recently enacted restrictive laws cutting back voting hours on nights and weekends, eliminating same-day registration, and basically making it harder for people to vote.

Standing between a citizen and the voting booth is a direct contradiction to the vision of equality put forth by the Founding Fathers. In 1776, they declared that all men were created equal, but many in our country had to wait another 94 years before the 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted citizens the right to vote-- though not all citizens.

Ratified in 1870, the amendment states:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. . . . The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

But it still took another 50 years before women in America were allowed to vote. After her arrest for casting a ballot in the Presidential election of 1872, Susan B. Anthony delivered a number of speeches in Upstate New York on women's suffrage. In those speeches, she noted that the right of all citizens to vote in elections is key to a functioning democracy.

Specifically, one line from her speech stands out: ``And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them by providing the democratic-republican government--the ballot.''

After the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the ballot, it took another 45 years before our Nation belatedly enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, intended to guarantee every U.S. citizen the right to vote. Does this principle really hold true in practice?

The continued voter suppression of which I speak may not be as blatant as it once was with Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and literacy tests and the like, but it is still very much with us.

In recent years, it is obvious that hurdles have once again been placed between the voting booth and the young and minority.

A devastating blow was dealt by the U.S. Supreme Court when it gutted the Voting Rights Act as recently as 2013. Our Nation's highest Court struck down a central provision of the law that had been used to guarantee fair elections in this country since the midsixties, which has included the guarantee of elections in my State of Florida since that time.

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect our right to vote. It required States with histories of voter suppression to get Federal approval before changing their voting laws. For nearly five decades, the States had to prove to the Department of Justice why a change was necessary and demonstrate how that change would not harm voters and their right to vote.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court declared that part of the law was outdated. Essentially, it rendered a key part of the law void until a bitterly partisan and gridlocked Congress can come up with a new formula for determining which States and localities need advance approval to amend their right-to-vote laws. The majority of the Court justified its ruling by pointing out that we no longer had the blatant voter suppression tactics that had been once used to disenfranchise voters across the country.

I vigorously disagree because removing much needed voter protections also prevents the Federal Government from trying to block discriminatory State laws before they go into effect. In essence, States and local jurisdictions are now legally free to do as they please. In fact, just moments after that Supreme Court decision, the Texas attorney general said his State would begin immediately honoring local legislation that imposed, in the words of a Federal court, ``strict and unforgiving burdens'' on many Texans who attempt to cast a ballot.

As has been noted, the right to vote was not always given to all American adults, but our laws adjusted as we became a more mature and tolerant democracy, but the reverse is what is happening in America today.

Since the 2010 election, in addition to cutting back on early voting, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida have approved voting restrictions that, according to some experts, are targeted directly at reducing turnout among young, low-income, and minority voters who traditionally vote Democrat.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature and State officials reduced the number of early voting days. It reduced them from 2 weeks down to 8 days, including very conveniently canceling the Sunday right before the Tuesday election--a day that historically had seen heavy African- American and Hispanic voting. State officials countered that registered voters would still have the same number of hours and that they could still vote early, only in 8 days instead of in 2 weeks. Well, it didn't work out that way.

Florida also made voting harder for people who had recently moved to another county and had an address change, such as college students. It also subjected voter registration groups to penalties and fines if they made mistakes or they didn't turn them in within a certain number of hours. These laws were so burdensome that the League of Women Voters challenged these provisions in Federal court, and they won. Judges found that Florida's 2011 reduction of early voting ``would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot.'' As a result, Florida had to restore 96 hours of early voting.

Even with these added protections, the next election in 2012 was a fiasco. Lines outside polling places were prohibitively long, with some people waiting up to 8 hours to cast their votes.

This year's 2018 midterm election brought added difficulties in Florida and across the country. This year, in Broward County, FL, ballot design caused over 30,000 people to miss voting in the U.S. Senate race because they didn't see it buried in the lower left-hand column under the instructions in English, Spanish, and Creole.

In North Dakota, the Republican State Legislature moved to require residential addresses in order to be able to register to vote. This move was widely seen as an attempt to prevent Native Americans, which is a Democratic-leaning constituency, from voting since many of them used post office boxes to get their mail on reservations.

In North Carolina, nearly 20 percent of early voting locations were closed this year because many of them simply couldn't meet the burdensome requirements imposed by the State legislature. There being absentee ballots that were stolen or missing and were never delivered has prompted a Federal investigation for fraud.

In our neighboring State of Georgia, the Republican candidate for Governor was the sitting secretary of State and was responsible for administering his own election. His office pursued aggressive policies that made it measurably harder for many people to vote, particularly African Americans and other minorities.

So, in light of this evidence and following a widespread public outcry, what can we do now? As I had said earlier, it may not be as obvious as poll tactics and all of the other blockades to voting. We have seen a lot of that in the past, particularly by all of the marches and so forth during the 1970s civil rights era. It might not be as obvious, but there are all of these subtle attempts. So what should we do?

I submit that though the problem is complex, the solution, the answer, is relatively simple. As Americans who cherish the right to vote, we must turn to those schemers and say: ``There is a promise of democracy that we will not allow you to break.'' We have an obligation to keep this promise of democracy for our children.

There are bright spots we should celebrate. In my State of Florida, voters, overwhelmingly this year, approved a ballot initiative that will restore the right to vote to nearly a million and a half individuals who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies and have served their time. This is a positive step. Congress may be dysfunctional, but we must continue to push lawmakers for a fix to the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down on a divided 5-to- 4 vote--to the provision that I spoke about. We ought to be making it easier to vote, not harder.

Keep in mind what President Johnson said one-half century ago: ``The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.''

Also, remember what Dr. King said:

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind--it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact--I can only submit to the edict of others.

That is what Dr. King said. So don't we owe it to our children the right to possess themselves if this is to be a truly free and fair democracy?

I believe that some of the most fundamental rights in our democracy are the right to vote, the right to know whom you are voting for, and the right to know that the vote you cast is going to be counted as you intended it.

If that were not enough, just as concerning as the ongoing efforts to suppress certain votes is the amount of undisclosed and unlimited money that is sloshing around in our campaigns. The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United has opened the floodgates and allowed the wealthiest Americans to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections. Allowing such unlimited, undisclosed money into the political system is corrupting our democracy.

I have strongly supported several pieces of legislation, such as the DISCLOSE Act, to require groups that spend more than $10,000 on campaign- related matters to identify themselves. Tell us who is giving the money by filing a disclosure with the Federal Election Commission. The American people have a right to know whom they are voting for--not just the name on the ballot but who is behind that name on the ballot. The Supreme Court itself said: ``Transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.'' That was straight from the Court.

I believe we as a Congress have a moral obligation--a moral obligation--to correct what has happened in our system and to ensure that our voters have the information they need to make informed decisions in the election process.