A rare form of democratic discourse that may, for a change, serve the American people returned to the U.S. Senate floor yesterday.
After intentionally waiting exactly one year since Nebraska elected him in 2014, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse took the podium. For the next 29 minutes, Sasse hammered his well-crafted message: Americans rightly distrust us because we broke the Senate, and fixing it means choosing substance over soundbites.
Sasse told colleauges not to mistake for passivity his decision to delay taking the floor for a year in which he listened, asked questions, and gathered information.
A “historian” by training and “crisis-turnaround guy” by trade, Sasse charged the Senate with neglecting the upper chamber’s foundational purpose: “To shield lawmakers from obsession with short-term popularity to enable us to focus on the biggest long-term challenges our people face.”
In this 2-minute clip Sasse states the point of the Senate, and what’s wrong with it:
Sasse condemned the Senate’s practice of routinely refusing to answer the nation’s gravest problems with long-term solutions. Rather than leverage their 6-year terms as insulation from political pressures, senators capitulate to short-term partisan demands.
The Nebraska senator continued by leading his colleagues through the greatest hits of the Senate’s broken record of excuses for dysfunction, rejecting as invalid an oft-cited reason: the broader and supposedly “shattered consensus” of the American people.
He also characterized Congress’s 9 percent approval rating as an existential crisis for the U.S. Senate, called on Democratic legislators to challenge Democratic presidents who overstep their Article II Executive Branch authority, and promised to challenge any Republican president who does the same:
Sasse acknowledged that calling for the recovery of more honest, democratic debate might make him appear naive and romantic. “But talking bluntly about what is not working in the Senate in recent decades is actually not naïve idealism,” he said. It’s “aspirational realism,” because it is the prerequisite to national recovery.
Watch or read the whole speech here.