Videos & Speeches
Sep 22 2015
Madam President, I appreciate the remarks of my esteemed colleague of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He has the knowledge and relationships in the Senate to make the case he just made.
I wish to just briefly address what I see as terrible flaws in this agreement which was negotiated by the Obama administration with other countries and with Iran.
I have previously outlined my objections on the Senate floor. I will restate that I strongly oppose the agreement and would hope that the Senate, on behalf of the American people, our national security, and peace around the globe, would make the same decision that I have made, which is that this agreement results in less stability, a greater likelihood of war, and a nuclear Iran—a country that is capable of delivering nuclear devices across its border, shouts “Death to America.” We are acquiescing by the action the Senate has taken to date that this agreement will take effect.
I can't imagine a more significant vote that Members of the Senate will take than this one, certainly in the arena of national security, national defense, and international relations. This agreement concedes too much and secures too little.
I serve on the banking committee. This is the committee that, because of our oversight over the Treasury Department, is responsible for legislation dealing with sanctions. I have participated in the debate in the committee and on the Senate floor about the sanctions that Congress has put in place against Iran. In my view, my colleagues and I—and I can certainly speak for myself—did not vote to put sanctions in place for the purposes of causing Iran to negotiate a path to nuclear capabilities. I voted for sanctions time and time again. I voted to increase them, encouraged by my letters and comments on the Senate floor, in my conversations with administration officials, and with my colleagues in the Senate that we tighten the sanctions. I didn't ask that the sanctions be tightened. I didn't encourage the administration to be more forceful in their enforcement for purposes of creating a setting in which Iran could negotiate a way out of the sanctions for the purpose of developing nuclear capabilities. Those sanctions were put in place for the purpose of keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Instead those sanctions have been the excuse by which this administration has negotiated a deal that is bad for the United States, bad for our European and worldwide allies, and particularly bad for our allies in the Middle East.
One would think that any agreement that was negotiated would dismantle Iran's nuclear capabilities. This agreement does not do that. One would assume that any agreement negotiated would prohibit the dollars from flowing—particularly billions of dollars to Iran—until they had complied with the terms of the agreement. But, no, this agreement allows the dollars to flow nearly from the beginning.
Iran will become a legitimized and enriched nuclear power, and they will become a wealthier, nuclear-capable country that supports terrorism in the Middle East and around the globe. As they have clearly stated, they will continue their effort to terrorize the world and end our way of life in the West as we know it with their continual chants of ``Death to America.''
As perhaps an issue that ought to be raised, one would think the administration would negotiate the release of Americans held captive in Iran as part of this agreement, but, no, they said that was extraneous. Yet, they negotiated issues related not only to nuclear capability but other weapons allowing Iran to increase its weaponization outside the nuclear arena.
I wish to now talk about the process. I came to the Senate following an election in 2010, and the frustration I immediately experienced was that this place was doing next to nothing. For most of my life, I have been encouraged when Congress wasn't at work because I thought my constituents were safer in the absence of congressional activity, but I came to the Senate with the intention of having a Senate that would work for the purpose of undoing many of the things that have happened over a long period of time that, in my view, are damaging to our freedoms and liberties and damaging to our ability to live the American dream.
I learned in a matter of a few weeks of my arrival in the Senate, and after taking the oath of office, that in this place the plan was to do nothing. We have seen that time and time again. My reaction to that was: I want to go out and see if we can get a Republican majority in which we have different leadership of the Senate, in which the goal is to have a Senate that functions, and the opportunity is for every Senator, Republican and Democrat, to present their ideas on behalf of their constituents and make the case to the rest of us that those ideas are worthy of our support.
The goal, in part, for a change in the majority of the Senate was to have a functioning Senate in which every Senator, Republican or Democrat, had the chance to present their ideas. I thought, as a result of a change in the majority, that when we all, Republicans and Democrats, had the opportunity to present those ideas on behalf of our constituents, we would see a change in the attitude and approach of the way the Senate operates.
For much of my early life, what I discovered about America's Congress—about the Senate and the House—was that there were Senators who didn't care who the President was or what party the President belonged to. There were Republican Senators who would disagree with a Republican President and Democratic Senators who would disagree with a Democratic President. Somehow over time, the political nature of our country has changed, and it seems to me we put the party of our President above the well-being of our Nation. That is dangerous.
I oppose this agreement not because it was negotiated by a Democratic President. I oppose this agreement because it is wrong, and it is bad for America. I thought the Senate—once the opportunities for all of us to present our ideas was available—would once again see the days in which it was not about party affiliation, but about the idea of presenting the best course and direction our country should go. Unfortunately, it seems to me, that the Iran agreement is the poster child for a Senate that is once again bogged down in support of a President on an agreement that is unworthy of that support.
Our country desperately needs men and women who serve in public office whose decisions are made not because they are pressured by a President, not because their President shares their party and political affiliation. Decisions need to be made here that benefit Americans today but, more importantly, Americans in the future. What seems to me to be missing in my efforts to change the nature of the Senate is that we are still mired in the circumstance in which--in the absence of 60 votes—the Senate's will on behalf of the American people cannot be expressed.
The point I guess I failed to understand is when new leadership came into play that was open and receptive to Democratic and Republican Senators presenting their thoughts, amendments being offered, bills being considered, most of my Democrat colleagues would find that appealing because we all came here to do something we believe in, not to play a political game. Unfortunately, that does not seem, to me, to be the case today.
This is the opportunity for us to change course and return the Senate to the day in which it was deliberative and in which Senators spoke on behalf of the well-being of the country as compared to the well-being of a President. It is very discouraging to me. We worked hard to make certain that the Senate became a place different than it was, and unfortunately we see in this circumstance it doesn't appear to be much different than it was a year ago.
I have been a supporter of the rules that allow for a filibuster, that require 60 votes for the Senate to advance an issue. I always thought that protected the minority--people who have different points of view, people who come to Washington, DC, and may not be in the majority and may feel as if they would be run over in the absence of their ability to protect their constituents, their ideas, and 60 votes was designed to protect the minority viewpoints in this country.
This becomes the moment, in my view, in which we can look at what has transpired on the debate on Iran and reach the conclusion that the 60-vote rule is damaging to the future of our country because it is damaging to the ability of the Senate to work the will of the American people and to make decisions that advance a cause different from one's political party and political philosophy.
In my view, the time has come for us to consider this issue of how the filibuster works. It is because this issue is so important and the outcome of this debate so valuable to the future of our country and the security of the world that in this case, we need to move forward with a majority vote to allow this agreement to be rejected.
This agreement is not worthy of the protection it is being given by a minority of Senators. It is supported—the rejection of this treaty—this agreement; it should be a treaty—the rejection of this agreement is opposed by a majority of Republican and Democratic Senators. Yet we will never have the opportunity--unless a couple of our colleagues decide to do what is right this evening—for the American people to see where we stand on this issue.
These are serious times. Nothing is easy in the world. It is always difficult to know what the right answers are, but the path the Senate is on today and the path the Senate took last Thursday is a terrible mistake for the future of our country and the security of our citizens. I urge the Senate to allow consideration of this agreement, and I urge the Senate to reject this agreement for the good of America.
I yield the floor to the Senator from South Dakota.