WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez last night lambasted his Republican colleagues during a fiery speech on the Senate floor and pleaded that they “think long and hard about the consequence of your actions for both the American people and for the future comity of this body” by forcing through a Supreme Court nomination within days of the election.
“You have twisted and distorted every rule and broken every norm to get your way just because you currently have the power to do so. That doesn’t make it right!” Sen. Menendez said. “You are poisoning the well of the Senate and flooding our nation with bad blood. And you have revealed yourselves to be so fearful of the will of the American people that you would confirm a Justice to the Supreme Court whose views are far outside the mainstream just days before the conclusion of the presidential election.”
When confirmed, Judge Amy Coney Barrett will shift the U.S. Supreme Court to the hard right. With a 6-3 conservative majority, Roe v. Wade; LGBTQ, voter, worker and civil rights; and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are under threat.
“Don’t you see? You are playing with fire. And you don’t seem to care that hundreds of millions of Americans – Americans you represent – are going to get burned,” Sen. Menendez said, calling out Senate Republicans. “It’s not that you’re not hearing from people in your states afraid of what a future without access to health care looks like. It’s that you are not listening.”
Over 50 million people have already cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election, and overwhelming majorities support both the Affordable Care Act and a woman’s right to choose. The high court will hear a Trump Administration challenge to the ACA on Nov. 10, one week after the election.
“What’s happening in the Senate is an obscene power grab by my Republican colleagues to bypass democracy and force the least popular, most extreme views of their party onto the American people, with no regard for the life and death consequences of their actions,” the Senator added. “This is a craven abuse of power that will ultimately inflict great cruelty on the American people. History is not going to forget it. And I think that someday, you are likely to regret it.”
Last week, Sen. Menendez heard directly from New Jersey constituents who told him they would not survive if the ACA is struck down. They spoke about how losing access to health care and the protections afforded under the law would be devastating both for their health and their finances. The Senator shared some of those heart-wrenching stories during his floor speech.
The Senator’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
M. President, I rise to speak in opposition to the confirmation of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court. We should not be holding this vote.
We are in the eleventh hour of a presidential election. 56 million Americans have already voted. The American people are sending a message. And we ought to hear what they have to say.
Instead, what’s happening in the Senate is an obscene power grab by my Republican colleagues to bypass democracy and force the least popular, most extreme views of their party onto the American people, with no regard for the life and death consequences of their actions.
To my friends in the Majority, you had a decade to create an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. You still have no viable plan. And, after failing to repeal it in 2017 and suffering an unprecedented electoral rebuke in 2018, you are relying on the Supreme Court to do your dirty work.
Oral arguments in California v. Texas, the legal challenge brought by Republican-led states with the Trump Administration’s support, are on the court’s docket November 10th.
You know full well that a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court is likely to overturn it. Or maybe just gut the ACA so deeply it will effectively be dead, as if that’s somehow any better.
At least 20 million people are at risk of losing their health care coverage and 135 million may lose protections for pre-existing conditions.
The fact you are even willing to roll the dice with their health care in the middle of a global pandemic that has already infected more than eight million Americans and killed over 224,000 of your countrymen is reckless and cruel.
Don’t you see? You are playing with fire. And you don’t seem to care that hundreds of millions of Americans – Americans you represent – are going to get burned.
It’s not as if you aren’t hearing from people in your states who fear a future without access to health care. It’s that you are not listening.
Yesterday I spent some time with New Jerseyans for whom the Affordable Care Act is a matter of life or death. For several of them, going without quality health care coverage is in their words, a death sentence.
I wonder how many of you would have had the courage to listen to their stories, look them in the eye and tell them you have no plan to protect their care. I suspect not many.
So, I’m going to share just a few of their stories.
Stephanie Vigario is a 31-year-old essential worker, a pharmacy technician from Newark, New Jersey who caught COVID-19. She spent two months – two months – fighting for her life in a hospital; including 35 days on a ventilator. By the grace of God she survived, but her life may never be the same. Even after all the intensive rehabilitation she went through, she’s still working on her recovery.
And there are hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 survivors like her, grappling with the long-term health consequences of a disease we don’t yet fully understand. Organ tissue damage. Weakness and fatigue. Chronic shortness of breath.
These Americans now have a pre-existing condition. And without the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies could once again begin pricing them out of coverage or denying it all together.
I also had the privilege of speaking with Scott Chesney of Verona, New Jersey. Scott is a married father of two who, at the tender age of 15, was paralyzed from the waist down. He faces a lifetime of expensive medical needs.
To quote him, “Aging with a disability —a pre-existing condition — is tough. Your body breaks down. Thankfully, my wife has health insurance because if I don’t get the medications and therapy I need, I don’t live.”
But without the Affordable Care Act, Scott would likely face annual caps and lifetime limits on his health care. Paying out of pocket for his care would likely lead to medical bankruptcy. And that burden weighs heavily on him every day as he thinks of his wife and children’s future as well as his own.
Finally, I want to share the story of Daria Caldwell of Flemington, New Jersey because her situation really speaks to the challenges that so many of our constituents across the nation are going through right now.
Daria lost her job and her health insurance as a result of the economic fallout of the pandemic. And this happened at the very time she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable type of blood cancer. Daria is 62 years old. She’s not old enough to enroll in Medicare. She’s paying for COBRA right now, but it will soon run out and she will need to find new coverage.
Before the Affordable Care Act, someone like Daria with expensive pre-existing conditions would basically be blacklisted from the individual health insurance market. An insurer would take one look at her medical history and the fact that some of her cancer drugs, like Revlimid, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, and they would simply turn her away.
She said, “Dissolving the ACA would cost me my life. That sounds dramatic because it is. I don’t want to die but I feel like a price tag has been put on my head and the constant threat is beyond anything I thought I would ever have to endure. It’s nearly as devastating as the diagnosis itself.”
I’m not telling you these stories just to pull at your heartstrings, though believe me listening to these men and women moved me to tears. I’m sharing their stories, their incredibly personal struggles, to remind my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that to the American people, this is NOT ideological.
This is not abstract. It is personal. These are matters of life and death.
Of course, the Affordable Care Act isn’t the only issue at stake here.
The very reason we are here, considering a Supreme Court nominee in the final days of a presidential election, is because I believe my Republican colleagues fear the will of the American people.
The number of Americans who support the most far-right positions of the Republican Party is shrinking, and so stacking the Supreme Court is their only path to advancing their unpopular agenda.
And they know it.
They know that most Americans – nearly 80 percent according to the last DECADE of Gallup polling – oppose criminalizing abortion. The overwhelming majority believe in the right of a woman to decide when she has children and they know it’s none of the government’s damn business.
They know that most Americans support action on climate change and limits on how much poisonous pollutants companies can pump into our air.
They know that most Americans – including responsible gun owners – support lifesaving background checks and tougher gun safety laws.
And they know that most Americans believe that their LGBTQ sons and daughters and friends and neighbors should be able to marry the people they love and live their lives free of discrimination.
My colleagues seem to have forgotten that as elected representatives of the American people, they are supposed to reflect the will of the people. And guess what? The will of the people changes! This isn’t the 1950s anymore.
But rather than adjust your sails to the winds of change, rather than meet the American people where they are on issues of life and death, you would instead prefer to sink the whole ship.
Those of you who know me know I try to see the best in my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I really do. I pride myself on my working relationships with so many of you. Some of you I even consider dear friends.
But I am stunned, just stunned, by the hypocrisy. Where are your principles?
When you blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination, you didn’t say it was because President Obama was a Democrat and the Senate was held by Republicans. You said very clearly at the time it was because a Supreme Court vacancy should not – NOT – be filled during a presidential election year.
You said the American people should have a voice. Now it’s clear you didn’t even believe the words you were saying at that time.
You were determined to deprive a democratically-elected, two-term President of his constitutional prerogative in order to fundamentally alter the makeup of the Supreme Court.
You did it in order to tip the scales of justice against women, workers, voters, LGBTQ Americans, patients, consumers, and immigrants for generations to come.
And Judge Barrett is the culmination of a 30-year fever dreamed up and cooked up by the Federalist Society and its corporate benefactors. Now, they’ll finally have enough justices to do their bidding.
And the American people are the ones who will have to deal with the real-world consequences of this shameless hypocrisy.
We have to remember what this is about.
This is about the right of an LGBTQ American to be by the bedside of their loved one as they take their last breath.
This is about the ability of a rape or incest survivor to terminate an unwanted pregnancy without government intrusion.
This is about the ability of a cancer patient to afford her treatment, and a baby with a heart defect to get treated without hitting a lifetime limit within weeks of being born.
So I am urging you – no, I am pleading with you – to think long and hard about the consequences of your actions. For both the American future and for the future comity of this body.
You have twisted and distorted every rule and broken every norm to get your way just because you currently have the power to do so. That does not make it right.
You are poisoning the well of the Senate and flooding our nation with bad blood.
And you have revealed yourselves to be so fearful of the democratic will of the American people that you would confirm a Justice to the Supreme Court whose views are far outside the mainstream just days before the conclusion of the presidential election.
I urge you not to go through with this vote. This is a craven abuse of power that will ultimately inflict great harm on the American people.
History is not going to forget it. And I think that someday, probably sooner than you think, you are likely to regret it.