Statement of Senator Barack Obama on the Nuclear Option

April 13, 2005

Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications the nuclear option would have on this chamber and this country. I urge you to think not just about winning every debate, but about protecting free and democratic debate.

During my Senate campaign, I had the privilege and the opportunity to meet Americans from all walks of life and both ends of the political spectrum. They told me about their lives, about their hopes, about the issues that mattered to them, and they also told me what they think about Washington.

Because you've all heard it yourselves, I know it won't surprise many of you to learn that a lot of people don't think much gets done around here about the issues they care most about. They think the atmosphere has become too partisan, the arguments have become too nasty, and the political agendas have become too petty.

And while I haven't been here too long, I've noticed that partisan debate is sharp, and dissent is not always well-received. Honest differences of opinion and principled compromise often seem to be the victim of a determination to score points against one's opponents.

But the American people sent us here to be their voice. They understand that those voices can at times become loud and argumentative, but they also hope that we can disagree without being disagreeable. And at the end of the day, they expect both parties to work together to get the people's business done.

What they don't expect is for one party - be it Republican or Democrat - to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster - if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate - then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.

I understand that Republicans are getting a lot of pressure to do this from factions outside the chamber. But we need to rise above an "ends justify the means" mentality because we're here to answer to the people - all of the people - not just the ones wearing our party label.

The fact is that both parties have worked together to confirm 95% of this President's judicial nominees. The Senate has accepted 205 of his 214 selections. In fact, we just confirmed another one judge this week by a vote of 95-0. Overall, this is a better record than any President's had in the last 25 years. For a President who received 51% of the vote and a Senate chamber made up of 55% of the President's party, I'd say that confirming 95% of your judicial nominations is a record I'd be pretty happy with.

Again, I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules. In the long run, this is not a good result for either party. One day Democrats will be in the majority again, and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than it is to a Democratic minority.

Mr. President, I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it's good for our democracy.

Right now, we're faced with rising gas prices, skyrocketing tuition costs, a record number of uninsured Americans, and some of the most serious national security threats we've ever had, all while our bravest young men and women are risking their lives halfway around the world to keep us safe.

These are challenges we all want to meet and problems we all want to solve, even if we don't all agree how to do it. But if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who asked us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere of Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn't serve anyone's best interests, and it certainly isn't what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.

We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much more.

Thank you.