Last night on the floor of the United State Senate, something almost unheard of occurred. A duly elected, sitting United States Senator was prevented from participating in the debate on the nomination for the next U.S. Attorney General. And the only reason for this was because the nominee was also a United States Senator. Had it been anyone else, Joe Blow from Paducah, Kentucky for example, there would have been no problem.
During a lengthy speech in opposition to Senator Jeff Session’s nomination, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) was reading, reading mind you, excerpts from letters written by Senator Edward Kennedy and Mrs. Coretta Scott King that were critical of his qualifications to be appointed a federal judge. Now she could have asked that these documents be “read into the record” which meant that they would appear in the next day’s issue of The Congressional Record which duly records all activities that take place in the House and the Senate. Instead, she chose, as was her right, to read them out loud as part of her speech.
In addition, the contents of these letters were not new. Mrs.King’s letter, for example, which had been kept confidential after Session’s consideration for a federal judgeship, was made public during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. According to The Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had not been present during Warren’s speech, belatedly came on the Senate floor to stop her. “…..McConnell came in and said her quotes from King crossed the line. She was ordered to sit down.”
Exactly what line had Elizabeth Warren crossed? McConnell was invoking the little-known and rarely used Senate Rule 19, which in Section 3 states “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming of a Senator.” No doubt this rule is helpful during normal debates to prevent one Senator from referring to another as “the spawn of Satan” or other such terms. Interestingly, in 2015, Senator Ted Cruz directly accused McConnell of lying. His exact words were “he is willing to say things that he knows are false.” There was no Rule 19 invoked here.
McConnell had several options facing him. He could have let Senator Warren continue with her speech. It is doubtful that it would have been newsworthy. He could have invoked Rule 19 and said nothing further. There would have been news reports on this and doubtless some debate on the subject. But McConnell, who at times does not appear to be the brightest bulb in the pack despite having attained the rank of Senate Majority Leader, had to go one further. He said the following:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
But this is a peculiar situation facing the Senate. How are they to debate the qualifications of a fellow Senator if they are prevented from saying anything negative about him? This could easily be resolved by requiring any sitting Senator to resign his or her seat before being considered for confirmation by the United States Senate. The capricious application of an arcane rule does not resolve anything.
There is another troubling aspect to McConnell’s intervention. Note the words She was warned. She was given an explanation. She persisted. Why did he not referred to her as “Senator.”? Ted Cruz got a pass on a blatant violation. Elizabeth Warren was prevented from participating in further debate on a Cabinet nomination.
Did the Republicans learn nothing from the January 22nd Women’s March? While this southern long-time Republican is certainly no fan of Elizabeth Warren or her policies, I hope that women across the country will react as strongly as I did to this stunning display of Senatorial arrogance. I also hope that #She Persisted becomes a rallying cry for men and women across the country.
Mitch McConnell seriously misjudged the American people and made a misstep that ought to send him stumbling down the steps of the United States Capitol. He also did something even more detrimental to the Republican Party. He turned Elizabeth Warren into a hero.