Senate Judiciary Patrick Leahy (right) talks with William Treanor, dean of the Georgetown Law Center, before delivering remarks at the Newseum on Tuesday.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy called Tuesday for Congress to come together for the good of the country in the wake of the shooting rampage in Arizona as he outlined a broad bipartisan agenda.
The Vermont Democrat asked lawmakers to tone down the rhetoric and exercise self-restraint in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others. “Things changed over the weekend,” Leahy said at the Newseum. The events “call us to pause and reflect over the promise of our democracy.”
Rhetoric and symbolism demonizing political opponents has gone too far, Leahy said. “Our politics has become incendiary ... and we all have responsibility for lowering the temperature,” he said.
The event should not be exploited for partisan gain, the Vermont Democrat said. “Let’s not get a tragedy mixed up in politics,” he added.
The country come together after the Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11 attacks, Leahy said, and it’s time for the country to do so again.
“Democrats and Republicans can work together, help the country and help lower the tensions,” he said.
Leahy recalled his own brush with terror when his office was sent one of the anthrax letters in 2001, adding that he still wonders why the letter was sent. “I think I’ll wonder that for the rest of my life,” he said.
But Leahy said he does not think there is a need to change his own security routine, saying he feels perfectly safe in Vermont and at the Capitol.
“I would not want to see every Member of Congress walking around with security,” he said. “It’s not the kind of country we are.”
Leahy said he has been to totalitarian countries where every official seems to have a security detail and he does not want to see that happen here.
“I think it would be a mistake if we put [up] any more barriers,” he said.
The Judiciary chairman said he hopes to work with his panel’s ranking member, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), on a broad agenda. “We know the value of bipartisanship and civility,” Leahy said.
He and Grassley already plan to work together on issues such as anti-fraud, protection of intellectual property and patent reform, he said, and he has already started working with House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
Leahy said immigration issues such as agriculture jobs and H-2A visas would be on the agenda, as well as repealing the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies; upgrading national security, cyber-security and privacy laws; and strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.
One item that Leahy didn’t mention as a priority was gun control. When asked about it, he said there will be efforts by some to pass gun control bills, “but I don’t know that much will change.”
The Judiciary chairman also issued a plea to his colleagues to help streamline the process for confirming federal judges. President George W. Bush had about twice the number of nominees approved by a Democratic Senate in his first two years as President Barack Obama, Leahy said. “You’ve got good men and women who are willing to serve. Let them do that,” he said.
The Vermont Democrat said he anticipates pushing judges through to the floor without further hearings if they already had a hearing in the 111th Congress, particularly ones who passed the committee on unanimous votes but then were blocked on the Senate floor.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.