Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.) has issues. Maybe he needs to become a little more secure in his masculinity. Based on his conduct in the Senate on February 7, 2017, I’d say he seems to have trouble with women who speak forcefully. That’s when McConnell persuaded the Senate to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass.), allegedly for violating a rule against “impugning” another member of the Senate.
What Senator Warren did was to speak against the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions (R. Ala.). She spoke for more than 50 minutes. You can view the entire speech here. She had lots to say about Senator Sessions’s past actions, including, for example:
- working to block votes on criminal justice legislation that had bipartisan support;
- bringing litigation against civil rights workers who were helping African Americans who were registered voters to exercise their right to vote;
- opposing the Violence Against Women Act;
- opposing abortion rights; and
- making racist remarks.
She used some very strong language of her own to oppose the confirmation of Senator Sessions because of its threats to the rights of African Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, and women. No one raised any objection.
Then she read a statement made by the late Senator Edward Kennedy during the debates on the confirmation of Sessions when he was nominated for a federal judgeship in 1986. At the time, Sessions was the U.S. Attorney for Alabama. Actually, Kennedy’s argument included the statement that Sessions was “a disgrace to the Department of Justice.” No one said a word.
“She was warned”
Senator Warren went on to read a letter from the late Coretta Scott King, written to oppose Sessions’s 1986 nomination to the federal bench. The chair interrupted her and warned her that she was violating a Senate rule which provides:
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 a Senator.
Here is the first interruption, with the so-called warning.
The rule violation was based on Warren’s quotation of Senator Kennedy’s statement. Warren questioned the ruling and asked if she could continue. The chair allowed her to do so, for another half hour. She continued to read the letter. And she went on to allege that the controversial immigration and travel ban of January 27 were, in part, the work of Jeff Sessions and Steve Miller. Senator Warren repeatedly criticized the Trump executive order on immigration.
What’s McConnell’s objection?
So what’s up with the sudden “enforcement” of the rule? When the chair interrupted Warren a second time, she was speaking about Sessions’s positions on legislation. Senator McConnell objected, not to what Senator Warren had just said, but to a passage from Mrs. King’s letter: “He has used the awesome power of his office to chill the exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
Never mind that more than 20 minutes had passed since Warren finished reading the letter.
Is the real problem Senator Warren’s gender?
Interestingly, Democratic senators came to Warren’s defense by reading the very letter that Warren was reprimanded for reading. Who else read it into the record today?
- Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
- Senator Sherrod Brown (D. Ohio)
- Senator Jeff Merkle (D. Ore.)
- Senator Tom Udall (D. N.M.)
None of them was silenced under Rule XIX. What do they have that Senator Warren doesn’t have? Besides Republican respect. Oh.