WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a speech on the Senate Floor Monday, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a current member and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, slammed repeated efforts by the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats to silence opponents and limit free speech. Citing the IRS’s political targeting scandal, the Senate Democratic Leadership’s attacks on conservative Americans, and a number of other troubling actions, Hatch said that Washington Democrats should focus on pressing issues facing our country, like our struggling economy and massive debt.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a pattern coming from the other side, both here in the Senate and in the White House, of using whatever tools are available to intimidate critics and marginalize opposition,” Hatch stated. “It is an ongoing effort on the other side to undermine free speech and impose limits on Americans’ participation in the political process.”
Hatch’s full speech can be viewed here, and the full text of his remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Mr. President, it’s no secret that our nation faces a number of critical problems.
We have a national debt that currently stands at more than $17.4 trillion.
We are in the midst of an entitlement crisis that threatens to balloon our debt and swallow up funding for the rest of our government.
And, we have a still-struggling economy, which was once again confirmed last week with the announcement of lackluster growth numbers.
These are just some of the problems that we’re facing, Mr. President. There are numerous others.
And, with all the challenges in front of us, you’d think that the Senate majority and the President of the United States would be focused on solving at least one or two of them.
Sadly, that’s just not the case.
In this heightened partisan climate, my friends in the majority are, far more often than not, focused on two things: shoring up their political base and marginalizing their political critics.
In other words, Mr. President, it’s all politics, all the time.
It’s pretty easy to find examples of the Democrats’ efforts to solidify their progressive base. Indeed, we’ve seen it in just the last few weeks.
Why else do you think we’ve had show votes on things like the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act and the minimum wage?
Why else did we have to endure an all-night speech-fest on climate change a few weeks back?
None of these efforts were rooted in any kind of policy justification. They certainly weren’t aimed at benefitting our economy or creating jobs. If anything, they’d do the opposite. In fact, the CBO confirmed that the Democrats’ latest gambit here on the floor – the minimum wage – would actually cost our economy jobs.
No, all of these endeavors were aimed driving turnout for the Democratic base in November.
But, that’s just one half of the Democrats’ equation. The other half, like I said, is silencing their critics.
Indeed, over the past few years, we’ve seen a pattern coming from the other side, both here in the Senate and in the White House, of using whatever tools are available to intimidate critics and marginalize opposition.
It started, of course, with the IRS targeting scandal.
The IRS has admitted that, in the run-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, it was improperly targeting conservative groups applying for tax exempt status for harassment and intimidation.
Now, for obvious reasons, President Obama has tried to sweep this scandal under the rug. But, the record is pretty clear on the matter. The IRS singled out conservative groups – groups that were critical of the President and his policies – for extra scrutiny.
These groups were subjected to delays in their applications. And, in several cases, they were asked a number of intrusive and harassing questions about their activities and goals.
There’s no getting around this. That is what happened.
This turn of events has left a black cloud over the IRS as an agency and seriously damaged the public’s trust in government.
But, let’s be clear about this: The IRS didn’t engage in these activities in a vacuum. On the contrary, they were cheered on by some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who, rather than simply dealing with criticism they didn’t agree with, urged the IRS to apply more scrutiny to these organizations.
Unfortunately, Mr. President, after the political targeting scandal, the IRS wasn’t finished.
The pattern continued.
Late last year, the agency unveiled a regulatory proposal designed to limit the quote-unquote political activities of 501(c)(4) organizations.
If finalized, these regulations would effectively silence grassroots organizations across the country. They would no longer be able engage in activities as innocuous as voter registration drives or candidate forums without those activities being labeled “political.”
The purpose of these regulations is very clear.
The administration doesn’t want grassroots organizations educating the public on the issues of the day. They certainly don’t want them informing people about candidates’ positions on matters of public policy. This regulation is designed specifically to put a stop to all of that.
It’s no surprise that this proposal has been condemned by groups across the political spectrum. Indeed, any objective observer would call this what it is: An affront to free speech and fair debate.
But, like I said, Mr. President, there’s a pattern here. It is an ongoing effort on the other side to undermine free speech and impose limits on Americans’ participation in the political process.
And, it hasn’t stopped with the IRS regulations.
Just last week, it was announced that the Senate majority plans to hold a vote on a constitutional amendment that would limit the scope of the First Amendment and allow Congress to impose limits on political speech.
It’s difficult to imagine that we’ve come to that, Mr. President. But, here we are.
Political speech is critical to our democracy. Indeed, this principle is at the very foundation of our republic.
It is one that our Supreme Court has upheld time and again, including very recently.
Yet, when confronted with speech they don’t like, my friends on the other side of the aisle are willing to use every tool at their disposal – to even change the text of the Constitution itself – in order to silence it.
In a marketplace of ideas – like the one the Founders intended – disagreeable speech can easily be met with additional speech. And, in the end, the truth will almost certainly prevail.
But, alas, my friends don’t appear to be interested in the truth or the marketplace of ideas. They only want one store that will only sell ideas they happen to agree with.
It’s truly mind-boggling. But, like I said, that’s where we are.
This isn’t the end of the pattern, Mr. President. In fact, the pattern of hostility toward free speech and the effort to intimidate and silence critics continues virtually every day here on the Senate floor.
Almost every day, Democratic Senators, including members of the Senate Democratic Leadership, come to the floor to call out American citizens by name and demonize them for having the audacity to participate in the political process.
They use the Senate’s time and resources to single out individuals whose only crime is that they happen to have different views on public policy.
I suppose their other crime is that they’re successful, which is, more often than not, enough to draw the ire of my friends on the other side. But, when you couple success in the economy with criticism of Democrats and their policies, it is apparently too much for my colleagues to bear.
So, like I said, day after day, Democratic leaders come to the floor to call out these Americans by name in order to attack them. They spread falsehoods about these Americans’ intentions. And, they malign the entire conservative movement and Republican Party as guilty by association.
Even if this type of demagoguery wasn’t unbecoming of the United States Senate – which it is – these attacks would be shameful in their own right.
After all, how are these unjustified attacks on American citizens going to help our struggling economy?
How are these attacks going to create jobs for the middle class?
How are these attacks on American citizens going to rein in our already out-of-control national debt?
They’re not, Mr. President. And, they’re not intended to.
Like I said, these days the Democrats have two missions: 1) solidify their base and 2) marginalize their opposition. And, when they come to the floor every day to make boogeymen out of individual Americans, they’re doing both.
They’re not, as they claim to be, trying to take money out of the political equation.
If they were, they’d be just as concerned with those on their side who spend millions bankrolling liberal causes and Democratic candidates. I’m talking, of course, about the labor unions, the trial lawyers, and billionaire environmentalists who have pledged to spend hundreds of millions in this campaign cycle alone.
Instead, they’re trying to scare up votes.
Apparently, they believe that, if they can make scapegoats out of those who choose to participate in the political process, they can cover up the fact that their policies have failed to get our economy moving and that they don’t have any answers to the real problems plaguing our country.
And, perhaps more importantly, they think that, if they can attack certain individuals for their political activities, others will be afraid to get similarly involved.
Once again, Mr. President, this is a pattern of hostility against both free speech and against any Americans who speak out against the policies of the Democrats.
Quite frankly, it’s simply shameful that it’s gone this far. We need to have a different conversation. We need to talk about ideas and proposals that will actually help the American people.
I hope that, in the coming months, my friends on the other side of the aisle will be willing to have this conversation rather than simply relying on underhanded tactics that, in the view of many, demean our government and the Senate in particular.
That is the type of debate the American people want to see, Mr. President. And, I think they’re smart enough to see through anything that the other side wants to offer in its place.
I yield the floor.
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