Last night, the Senate Republicans passed a rebuke of Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a speech she gave to a nearly empty Senate chamber opposing Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be attorney general. They rebuked her because they believed language she used while quoting Coretta Scott King and Senator Ted Kennedy supposedly breached Senate rules by impugning the so called character of Senator Sessions.
While not every Senator actually voted, the chamber passed along party lines (49 to 43) to uphold the ruling that Warren violated rule 19 of the Senate. The rule states that Senators may not use “any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” Senator Warren was therefore ordered to sit down and prohibited from speaking for the rest of the debate surrounding Sessions’ nomination.
There are basically two portions of Warren’s speech that the GOP says impugned Sessions’ character. The first was a quote from a letter written by Coretta Scott King that referenced prosecutions that happened while Sessions served as the US Attorney for Alabama. “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” King was quoted as writing.
Warren also was rebuked for quoting a 1986 statement of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who was serving as a member of the Judiciary Committee when Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge. Kennedy was quoted as saying “He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.”
Neither statement makes Jeff Sessions look very good, which is probably why Elizabeth Warren used them during her speech last night. It should be noted, however, that Warren’s speech was one of a number of speeches the Democrats were giving last night in opposition to Sessions’ nomination. In fact, the Dems were planning on holding the floor all through the night as a way to draw attention to their opposition of Trump’s pick for Attorney General. Warren’s speech therefore wouldn’t have received too much attention in the big scheme of things if the Republicans hadn’t rebuked her.
Now that Mitch McConnell and the GOP decided to make a big deal out of it, however, it’s received a lot of attention in both social media and the mainstream press. A piece by James Hohmann on the Washington Post’s website, for instance, had a headline declaring “Mitch McConnell gives Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign an in-kind contribution.” The article went on to say that the move “solidifies her bona fides as a fighter for progressive causes.”
Then there’s this wonderful quote from Mitch McConnell trying to defend his decision to rebuke Senator Warren.
“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation,” McConnell proclaimed. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
That quote has been making it’s rounds all over social media, something that’s not usually done with quotes about legislative action in the US Senate. There have even been links circulated for people who want to print it out as a sign. Other folks have also mentioned that male Senators weren’t rebuked when they read from the same statements, which raises a lot of questions about why Senator Warren was singled out for action.