Reid: Senate Has a Mountain of Work to Do, And No Time to Do It

“I am still stunned that the Republican Leader decided that a seven-week vacation was more important than funding our nation’s Zika response, or giving Merrick Garland a hearing or even meeting with him, or keeping terrorists and criminals from buying guns.” 

“The next Senate should not begin months behind because of this Republican Senate’s failure to do its job.” 

“And now, because of the Republican leader’s decision to recess for the summer, Congress is floundering because of Republican inaction. The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today calling on Republicans to address critical issues they have so far ignored – including funding the response to Zika, funding the government, confirming Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and stopping terrorists from buying guns, among other issues:

I appreciate all the people here that we spend so much time with and all your good work. We’ve been gone for seven weeks. The baseball season is about over. I wish it went year-round, but it doesn’t, so all good things come to an end and we’ll have that over within about month now.

Today, the Republican Senate returns from the longest summer recess in more than 60 years.

I am still stunned that the Republican leader decided that a seven-week vacation was more important than funding our nation’s Zika response, or giving Merrick Garland a hearing or even meeting with him, or keeping terrorists and criminals from buying guns.

And, as The New York Times reported in some detail on Sunday – climate change is here. Military installations, like those in Virginia, are in peril of not surviving. Whole neighborhoods are underwater. Highways and bridges to islands are impassable. Seven weeks of vacation and not a word of debate on the rising seas, and they are here.  Ask anyone in Florida trying to pass a bond issue for billions of dollars to raise the highways and the roads and the foundations and the buildings.

And now, because of the Republican leader’s decision to recess for the summer, Congress is floundering because of Republican inaction. The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it.

First and foremost, the Senate needs to fund efforts to combat the Zika virus. It’s a problem sweeping this country.

Earlier this year, Democrats tried in vain to bring Republicans to the realization that Zika was imperiling the health of all, but especially women of childbearing age.

We accepted the Senate Zika compromise. In May, 89 Senators voted to pass that legislation. Republicans in the House said no. And then surprisingly, when we tried to pass it as a standalone, the Republican Senate said we won’t agree to what we agreed to a few weeks ago. Stunning to say the least.

President Obama proposed a meeting with Senator McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Secretary Burwell and Director Donovan to work on the Zika crisis. They said no to the meeting.

Democrats offered to negotiate a compromise, but Republicans rejected our efforts to compromise. Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the confederate flag than protecting women and babies from this awful virus. I can’t make that stuff up; that’s really the truth – they were more interested than protecting women and babies from this awful virus.

As Republicans stalled, Zika spread rapidly.

Puerto Rico has been ravaged by the virus. 2,000 Puerto Ricans are infected each week. Remember, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that by the end of the year, 25% of the island’s population would be infected with Zika. That’s 900,000 people.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico due to the Zika virus.

Democrats pleaded for Republicans to cut short their seven-week break and return to the Capitol in order to pass emergency Zika funding. Republicans said “no, we’re going to stay home some more.”

And while the Republican Senate insisted on vacation, Zika spread to the mainland United States.

Local transmission of Zika was confirmed in Florida. Last week, public health officials in Florida even trapped mosquitoes carrying the virus. To date, nearly 17,000 men, women and children in the United States and its territories have been infected with Zika, including 1,600 pregnant women. 16 babies have been born with the deforming birth defects caused by Zika.

We still do not understand all the devastating effects of the virus. That’s why we need more study. We know about microcephaly – the birth defect that inhibits brain development and prevents the skull from growing. We have seen the heart-wrenching pictures of these babies with tiny heads.

But in recent weeks we have also learned that newborns with Zika face other problems, such a hearing loss, vision impairment and joint deformities. Because of Republican inaction, our entire nation is exposed to this scourge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have the resources to fight Zika. CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters:

“The cupboard is bare…Basically, we are out of money and we need Congress to act.”

We must stop the spread of this disease. We need to learn more. We need to pass a bipartisan funding bill that gives doctors, researchers and public health officials the resources they require to understand and fight the spread of this deadly, deforming virus.

We passed something here with 89 votes, as I said, it went to the House and they sent it back with all this strange, weird stuff in it.

They cut funding for the Veterans Administration by $500 million. They tried to disguise the fact that what they were trying to do was eliminate Planned Parenthood. Remember, Planned Parenthood last year, 2 million American women went to Planned Parenthood now with this Zika virus frightening women all over America, they want to cut this off?

And as I said, they did other things. and when I talked about flying the confederate flag, I’m not kidding. Part of the legislation sent back to us that they could continue flying the confederate flag over military installations. Is that something we could vote for? Of course not.

The continuing resolution – that’s become kind of the thing we do around here, since the Republicans perfected filibusters. Continuing resolutions are a way of saying we can’t do our regular appropriations work, so let’s do something that gets us through the year.

We must focus our efforts on keeping the federal government open.

Press reports indicate that Republicans want to pass a continuing resolution that extends into early next year. This seems odd. We just completed seven weeks of doing none of the country’s essential business. And now Republicans are suggesting another ten weeks of vacation.

But Speaker Ryan and Senator McConnell should understand that Democrats will not support ten more weeks away from Washington, D.C. We have a lot of work to do. We cannot ignore the nation’s work any longer.

President Obama will reject any continuing resolution that extends into 2017.

Notably, Members of Congress received their pay during the seven-week recess we were out of Washington and would receive salaries during the Republicans proposed ten-week recess.

Let’s be very clear: a funding resolution that stretches into next year is a permission slip for Congress to refuse to do its job for the rest of this year.

The next Senate should not begin months behind because of this Republican Senate’s failure to do its job.

Once we have ensured that the government is properly funded, we must turn our attention to the important issues that the Republican Senate has failed to adequately address.

How about the Supreme Court and judicial nominations?

The Senate needs to give the United States Supreme Court a full complement of nine justices. Republicans still refuse to give Chief Judge Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote. Orrin Hatch, who opened the Senate a few minutes ago, has said that Merrick Garland is a consensus nomination. I don’t know if he forgot when he said it or didn’t mean it at the time – I think he did mean it at the time.

Instead, Republicans want to hold the seat open for Donald Trump to fill. If that doesn’t startle you, I don’t know what would.

What more do you have to see from Trump to realize that he is dangerous and unfit for the presidency? How can you hold a Supreme Court vacancy open for this man and his weird, weird ideas?

It’s not just the Supreme Court. Republicans have deadlocked our entire system of justice because of the Republican Senate’s dysfunction.

This Republican Senate has confirmed the fewest circuit and district judges in decades. Apparently, Republicans want Trump to remake the justice system in his image – and what an image that would be. A Trump judiciary.

To show the American people’s absolute disgust with how Republicans have treated Merrick Garland’s nomination, starting today I’m objecting to nonessential committees meeting for other purposes until the Judiciary Committee schedules a meeting to consider Judge Garland’s nomination.

If the Republican leader thinks there is a committee that needs to meet because of extraordinary circumstances, I would be pleased to consider his request. But in the meantime, as of today, I’m objecting to committees meeting in line with the rules of the Senate.

In addition to ending the disgusting and repugnant opposition to Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, we must also pass legislation to keep guns and explosives out of the hands of suspected terrorists and other dangerous individuals.

How many more acts of gun violence must we witness before we act? How many more slaughters must we witness?

The American people want us to do something to address this worsening gun violence. 85% of Americans support legislation keeping guns away from suspected terrorists. This is the case all over America. Sensible background checks. That’s all it is.

Senate Republicans should listen to the American people and stop listening to the National Rifle Association. We must take a stand against gun violence.

There are many, many other pressing ideas.

The United States Senate needs to address criminal justice reform, which is in deep need of repair and renovation.

The United States Senate needs to help make college more affordable for American families.

The United States Senate needs to address campaign finance reform. We must keep dark money out of our politics.

It’s here and getting bigger every day because of two people, the Koch brothers.

The Kochs today are in hog heaven because they now can secretly funnel money to all their clandestine committees and groups. They’re spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars funneling money to the Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association and many other front groups that no one has ever heard of — none of us have. They’re running those ads with this secret money.

The United States Senate has much to do and we have to use our time wisely. Sadly, for the last seven weeks we have not been using our time in a productive manner.

That’s why it was baffling to learn that Republicans want to move to the Water Resource and Development Act next week.

I understand WRDA legislation. I’ve been chairman of that committee on two separate occasions. I know there’s money in this bill for beleaguered Flint, Michigan. The people of Flint have waited months and months for this overdue for this overdue relief.

Also in this bill is the Tahoe Restoration Act, which I support.

I had, last Wednesday, my 20th and last summit on Lake Tahoe. Such a much better place because of what we’ve done over the last 20 years.

Two billion dollars have been spent on that beautiful lake. There’s only one other lake like that in the whole world. And that’s in Siberia. So I know how important this Tahoe Restoration Act is.

But the fact remains is the Republican House is not going to pass it anyway. I’m willing to do what I can to act responsibly by not blocking this bill as the Republicans would do. But we will legislate very carefully.

Staffs are working to find out if we have a path forward. I appreciate the good work of Senators Boxer and Inhofe. I’m hopeful that we can find a path forward on WRDA as well as Zika, funding the government and other matters about which I have spoken.

In the meantime, the Senate has to prioritize. I know the Republican leader sets the Senate schedule, but he should acknowledge the situation for what it is. Now we have a logjam of important legislation that he created by recessing for seven weeks.

We have a mess, but the mess is of the Republican leader’s own making. Now that Republicans have finally decided to come back to the nation’s capital, it is time to move forward on these issues that have been ignored for seven weeks. In short, it is time for the Republicans to do their job.