Al Franken gave his final speech as a US Senator yesterday to an audience of his Democratic colleagues. Only one Republican Senator, Lamar Alexander, took the time to sit in the chamber and hear it. It was long, over 35 minutes, but it had to be. Franken used his time to detail lies coming from the Republican Party and the Trump White House, reminding us that it isn't Trump who started it.
Republicans have been lying for a long, long time.
The video above is from the last ten minutes of the speech. The whole thing is at Al Franken's Facebook page, and the full transcript, from which the excerpt below is taken, is at CBS Minnesota. We join the speech where he is talking about Republicans suppressing voting rights:
it’s all based on a lie—and not a lie President Trump came up with. Right-wing conservatives have been raising a false alarm about so-called “voter fraud” for years, despite the fact that no credible evidence has ever been produced demonstrating that it is a real problem.
Or take the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBT rights. Again and again, lurking behind these policies are lies. The lie that advocates of LGBT rights want to trample on people’s religious freedom. The lie that families led by a gay or lesbian couple don’t provide a safe environment for children. The lie that allowing transgender people to use the appropriate bathroom opens the door to sexual assault.
President Trump didn’t invent these lies. But he and his administration proudly repeat them.
Or take the attacks on science, especially climate science. We now have enough evidence to conclude that climate change is real, and it’s man-made. It is a threat to our nation’s security and an existential threat to the planet—Defense Secretary Mattis knows this. And yet, for years, so-called scientists funded by industry have been hard at work casting doubt on the well-established scientific consensus. Heck, a recent Washington Post report revealed that Trump administration officials have prohibited the Centers for Disease Control—our nation’s premier public health and research institution—from using the terms “evidence-based” and “science-based” in budget-planning documents.
President Trump didn’t launch the war on science. But now he’s leading the charge.
Or take health care.
President Trump promised that everyone would have insurance. But an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office revealed that under the House Republican health care bill, 23 million fewer people would have had health insurance than are currently covered today. 23 million people. And to add insult to injury, the House bill would have hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest. According to the CBO, 14 million of the 23 million people who would have lost coverage under the House Republicans’ plan were Medicaid beneficiaries.
That’s right, despite candidate Trump’s assurances that, quote “everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now” unquote, the Republican bill would have cut funding to Medicaid, a vital safety-net program that ensures that our seniors, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and families with children have access to the health care they need. On top of that, the Republican plan would have driven up the cost of premiums, with older and sicker people experiencing the steepest increases.
Indeed, the health care debate has long been predicated on lies. The lie that, quote “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is provide abortion services. The lie that women only rely on birth control because they’re sexually promiscuous. The lie that the Affordable Care Act is collapsing under its own weight, when, in fact, the Trump administration and Republicans here in Congress have been doing everything they can to sabotage it.
And then there’s the tax debate.
Over the last year, Republicans have repeatedly claimed that they would advance policies designed to benefit middle class families, not the wealthy. President Trump pledged not to forget the, quote “the forgotten men and women of our country.” Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, promised that the Republican tax plan would help the middle class. He vowed that any tax cuts for upper-income earners would be offset by getting rid of deductions that benefit the wealthy—that’s what he said. Let me quote Secretary Mnuchin. He said, quote “there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” But again, M.PRESIDENT, 83 percent of the benefits in the Republican tax bill go to the richest 1 percent. What he said just isn’t true.
Even just the other day, the White House Press Secretary claimed that President Trump himself will pay more because of this bill. We don’t know for sure exactly what its effect will be on his personal finances, because the White House has refused to release his tax returns, claiming—in another lie—that he can’t release them because they’re under audit. You can release your tax returns while you’re under audit. What we do know, M.PRESIDENT, is that the tax breaks in the Republican bill for real estate developers like President Trump and his family will save him millions upon millions of dollars.
I could go on and on and on and on. You know, before I came to the Senate, I was known as something of an obsessive on the subject of honesty in public discourse. But, as I leave the Senate, I have to admit that it feels like we are losing the war for truth. Maybe it’s already lost.
And if that’s the case—if that’s what happens—then we have lost the ability to have the kinds of arguments that help build consensus, or at least help the American people make informed choices about the issues that affect their lives.
So what is to be done? Who will stand up and fight for a more honest debate—to insist that, even though we have a different set of opinions, we cannot honorably advance our competing agendas unless we use the same set of facts.
Well, I hope that my colleagues—on both sides of the aisle—will stand up for truth. The thing is, I have spent enough time with my Republican friends over the last eight and a half years to know that you are motivated by values, just like Democrats. I just hope that you will fight for those values forthrightly.
But, at the end of the day, it’s going to be up to the American people, just like it always has been. We will always have the democracy we deserve, if not the government we want. It’s going to take ordinary Americans deciding to become more informed consumers of political news and opinion—and deciding that they’re willing to be part of the argument themselves, instead of simply tuning it all out as noise. And if they do, I know that we will get this country back on track.
In October, 15 years after we lost Paul, I took to the Senate floor to remember him and to celebrate his life. Paul understood—better than anyone I know—the meaning and the power of politics, and I think he would have a lot to say about where we find ourselves today. Paul said, quote “Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.”
Even in the face of everything that is happening today, I still believe in Paul’s words. “Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.” I know those words to be true because I know that the American people still believe in justice and equality and opportunity—and I see evidence of it every day.
I saw it in January, when more than 4 million people across the United States joined the Women’s March, standing in solidarity with their mothers and sisters, daughters and wives. I saw it later that same month, after President Trump issued an executive order seeking to ban travelers from Muslim-majority countries from entering our country, when hundreds of lawyers responded to a call for help and rushed to airports, offering their services and support to affected families.
I saw it in May, when a transgender boy in Wisconsin who was discriminated against by his school had the courage to take them to court, and he won. I saw it in September, when tens of thousands of Americans mobilized in opposition to attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and succeeded in killing the bill. And I saw it at the ballot box, when voters in Virginia and Alabama resisted the temptation to give in to anger and cynicism and instead exercised their right to vote.
“Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.” The American people know that to be true, and they fill me with hope for our future