A Discussion of Rules Falls Short of What Is Required

"We must address the disease itself—the disease of division—to protect our democracy."

I rise at a challenging and divisive time for our nation.

For years, America’s politics have spiraled steadily downward into increasingly bitter, tribal partisanship – and our democracy has been strained.

While that may sound abstract, it is a problem that hurts Americans in real, tangible ways.

These deepening divisions hurt our ability to work together to create new job opportunities, protect the health and safety of our communities and country, and to ensure everyday families get ahead.

Americans across the country know this. They see it every day – not only on social media and cable news, but at their jobs and around their dinner tables.

We are divided.

It is more likely today that we look at other Americans who have different views and see the “other,” or even see them as enemies – instead of as fellow countrymen and women who share our core values.

It’s more common today to demonize someone who thinks differently than us, rather than to seek to understand their views.

Our politics reflect and exacerbate these divisions, making it more and more difficult to find lasting, broadly supported solutions to safeguard our freedoms, keep our country safe, and expand opportunity for all our citizens.

So two questions face us as a nation:

Where does this descending spiral of division lead? And how can we stop it?

Our country’s divisions have now fueled efforts in several states that will make it more difficult for Americans to vote and undermine faith that all Americans should have in our elections and our democracy.

These state laws have no place in a nation whose government is formed by free, fair, and open elections.

We must also acknowledge a painful fact:

The state laws we seek to address are symptoms of a larger, more deeply-rooted problem facing our democracy – the divisions themselves, which have hardened in recent years, and have combined with rampant disinformation to push too many Americans away from our basic Constitutional values.

In the Spring of 2017, after Trump took office, I wrote an opinion piece in the Arizona Republic highlighting my concerns about the strains on our Constitutional boundaries and the shrinking respect for our founding Constitutional principles.

In the years that followed, my colleagues and I in this body were called upon to participate in two separate impeachment trials for crimes against our Constitution.

And on January 6, last year, I was standing in this very spot, speaking in this very chamber, defending Arizona’s fair and valid election against disinformation when violent insurrectionists halted the presidential certification.

Threats to American democracy are real.

I share the concerns of civil rights advocates and others I have heard from in recent months about these state laws.

I strongly support those efforts to contest these laws in court, and to invest significant resources into these states to better organize and stop efforts to restrict access at the ballot box.

And I strongly support and will continue to vote for legislative responses to address these state laws – including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, that the Senate is currently considering.

I support these bills because they strengthen Americans’ access to the ballot box and they better ensure that Americans’ votes are counted fairly – it is through elections that Americans make their voices heard, select their representatives, and guide the future of our country and our communities.

These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease – but they do not fully address the disease itself.

And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.

The debate over the Senate’s 60-vote threshold shines a light on our broader challenges.

There is no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role protecting our country from wild reversals in federal policy.

It is a view I have held during my years serving in both the U.S. House and the Senate, and it is the view I continue to hold.

It is the belief that I have shared many times in public settings and in private settings.

Senators of both parties have offered ideas – including some that would earn my support – to make this body more productive, more deliberative, more responsive to Americans’ needs, and a place of genuine debate about our country’s pressing issues.

And while this week’s harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have – and should have – been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year, such a discussion is still a worthy goal.

But a discussion of rules falls short of what is required.

American politics are cyclical and the granting of power in Washington, D.C. is exchanged regularly by the voters from one party to another.

This shift of power back and forth means the Senate’s 60-vote threshold has proved maddening to members of both political parties in recent years – viewed either as a weapon of obstruction, or a safety net to save the country from radical policies, depending on whether you serve in the majority or the minority.

But what is the legislative filibuster other than a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by Senators representing a broader cross-section of Americans – a guardrail, inevitably viewed as an obstacle by whoever holds the Senate majority, but which in reality ensures that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process?

Demands to eliminate this threshold (from whichever party holds the fleeting majority) amount to a group of people separated on two sides of a canyon, shouting to their colleagues that the solution to their shared challenges is to make that rift both wider and deeper.

Consider this: in recent years, nearly every party-line response to the problems we face in this body, every partisan action taken to protect a cherished value, has led us to more division, not less.

The impact is clear for all to see – the steady escalation of tit-for-tat, in which each new majority weakens the guardrails of the Senate and excludes input from the other party, furthering resentment and anger amongst this body and our constituents at home.

Democrats’ increased use of requiring cloture for judicial nominees under President George W. Bush led to similar tactics by Republicans under President Barack Obama.

The 2013 decision by Senate Democrats to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for most judicial and presidential nominations led directly to a response in 2017 by Senate Republicans, who eliminated the threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

These short-sighted actions by both parties have led to our current American Judiciary and Supreme Court, which, as I stand here today, is considering questions regarding fundamental rights Americans have enjoyed for decades.

Eliminating the 60-vote threshold – on a party line with the thinnest of possible majorities – to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office.

Indeed, some who undermine the principles of democracy have already been elected.

Rather, eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.

It is clear that the two parties’ strategies are not working – not for either side, and especially not for the country.

You know, it’s comfortable for members of each party, particularly those who’ve spent their careers are spent in party politics, to think their respective party alone can move the country forward.

Party control becomes a goal in and of itself – instead of prioritizing a healthy, appropriate balance in which Americans’ diverse views and shared values are represented.

But when one party needs only negotiate within itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle toward the extremes.

I understand there are some on both sides of the aisle who prefer that outcome, but I do not. I know that Arizonans do not either.

Our country’s first president, George Washington – a leader whose wisdom I borrowed at the conclusion of the 2020 impeachment trial – he warned against political factions more than 200 years ago, saying that extreme partisanship could lead to the “ruins of public liberty.”

“I was no party man myself,” Washington wrote, “and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.”

Today, we serve in an equally divided Senate. And today marks the longest time in history that the Senate has been equally divided.

The House of Representatives is nearly equally divided as well.

Our mandate? It seems evident to me – work together and get stuff done for America.

The past years have shown: when a party in control pushes party-line changes exceeding their electoral mandate, the bitterness within our politics is exacerbated, tensions are raised within the country, and traditionally non-partisan issues are transformed into partisan wedges.

We must address the disease itself – the disease of division – to protect our democracy.

It cannot be achieved by one party alone. It cannot be achieved solely by the federal government.

The response requires something greater – and yes, more difficult – than what the Senate is discussing today.

We need robust, sustained strategies that put aside party labels and focus on our democracy – because these challenges are bigger than party affiliation.

We must commit to a long-term approach as serious as the problems we seek to solve – one that prioritizes listening and understanding. One that embraces making progress on shared priorities, and finding common ground on issues where we hold differing and diverse views.

This work requires all Americans everywhere. Efforts to fix these problems on a bare-majority party line will only succeed in exacerbating the root-causes that gave way to these state laws in the first place, extending our descent into a more fragmented America.

This work is our shared responsibility as Americans.

I share the disappointment of many that we have not found more support on the other side of the aisle for legislative responses to state-level voting restrictions.

I wish that were not the case – just as I wish there had been a more serious effort on the part of Democratic Party leaders to sit down with the other party and genuinely discuss how to re-forge common ground on these issues.

My Republican colleagues have a duty to meet their shared responsibility to protect access to voting and the integrity of our electoral process.

We need a sustained, robust effort to defend American democracy – an effort on the part of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and all Americans in communities across this country.

So we ask: what must we do to protect our democracy?

We should invest heavily in recruiting and supporting state and local candidates for office – in both parties – who represent the values enshrined in our Constitution.

We should ensure we have a Judiciary that is less lopsided in its political leanings, and that we can all depend on to uphold the Constitution.

We must confront and combat the rise of rampant disinformation and ensure that all Americans have the tools to see fact from fiction. This will be particularly difficult work, since some in power have used disinformation to manipulate our differences and pull Americans apart, pressuring us to see our fellow Americans as enemies

The dangers facing our democracy took years to metastasize.

And they will take years of sustained, focused effort to effectively reverse.

There are steps that we can take today to fix our politics and better set the stage for repairing our democracy.

Many of you know I began my career as a social worker.

And in our social work training, our first necessary skill is the ability to listen to others – listening not to argue or rebut, but listening to understand.

I ran for the United States Senate rejecting partisanship, willing to work with anyone to help Arizonans build better and more secure lives.

And throughout my time serving Arizona, I have listened – to Arizonans expressing diverse views on inflation, economic competitiveness, climate and social priorities, and the role of the federal government itself.

I find myself grateful time and time again to learn from Arizonans who share the same core values, but differ in position on issues and policies. Their similarities and their differences are surely representative of the complexity of Americans nationwide.

So I find this question answers itself:

Can two Americans of sharp intellect and good faith reach different conclusions to the same question?

Yes. Yes, of course they can.

It is easy for elected officials to give speeches about what they believe. It is harder to listen and acknowledge that there are a whole lot of Americans with different ideas about what is important in our country and how to solve those problems.

And yet, it is important to recognize that disagreements are okay. They are normal – and honest disagreements matched with a willingness to listen and learn can help us forge sturdy and enduring solutions.

Congress was designed to bring together Americans of diverse views, representing different interests and – as a collective – to find compromise and common ground to serve our country as a whole.

We face serious challenges, and meeting them must start with a willingness to be honest, to listen to one another, to lower the political temperature, and to seek lasting solutions.

Some have given up on the goal of easing our divisions and uniting Americans. I have not.

I’ve worked hard to demonstrate in my public service the value of working with unlikely allies to get results – helping others see our common humanity and finding our common ground.

And I remain stubbornly optimistic, because this is America. We have overcome every challenge we’ve ever faced.

I am committed to doing my part to avoid toxic political rhetoric, to build bridges, to forge common ground, and to achieve lasting results for Arizona and this country.

But we are in desperate need of more. More people who are willing to listen, to seek understanding, to stitch together the fabric of our country that has been ripping ‘round the edges. More people who are willing to put down the sticks sharpened for battle and instead pick up their neighbors to learn why they are angry or upset or left behind.

So I call on each of us as Americans – let us be those people.

We are but one country. We have but one democracy. We can only survive, we can only keep her if we do so together.

Thank you.

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