Senate debate over the nomination of Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general was interrupted by a great furor when Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) broke Senate rules and was subsequently told to sit down.
The dustup began when Warren stood on the Senate floor and read a letter from the late Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr's widow, written in 1986 in opposition to the nomination of the same Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship.
I write to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. Anyone who used the power of the office as a United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
Elizabeth Warren tried to speak out against Jeff Sessions and his racist past. She was silenced. #LetLizSpeak https://t.co/tFuhmn2LoZ— American Bridge (@American Bridge) 1486524303.0
In the course of reading this letter, Warren was interrupted by an objection from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said, "The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair. Sen. Warren said, 'Sen. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote of black citizens.' I call the senator to order under the provisions of rule 19."
Rule 19 states the following: "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."
"Mr. President," Warren, now clearly angered, responded, "I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks."
After another objection from McConnell, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana), acting as the presiding officer of the Senate, made a simple and curt command: "The senator will take her seat."
The Senate then voted that Warren was in violation of the Senate rules and barred her from speaking on the floor until debate on Sessions' confirmation is concluded.
Stunning moment: Elizabeth Warren silenced by McConnell on the Senate floor for speaking out against Sessions' confirmation. pic.twitter.com/g3GBBOTEn9
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) February 8, 2017
This occasioned a barrage of angry and outraged tweets from Warren and her supporters and fellow detractors of Sessions and Trump.
Tonight @SenateMajLdr silenced Mrs King's voice on the Sen floor - & millions who are afraid & appalled by what's happening in our country.— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1486517487.0
I will not be silent while the Republicans rubber stamp an AG who will never stand up to the @POTUS when he breaks the law.— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1486517443.0
I will not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory & racist comments that have no place in our justice system.— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1486517399.0
McConnell shuts down Warren on Senate floor in opposition to Sessions. We're watching the Autocracy forming in front of our eyes.— Rob Reiner (@Rob Reiner) 1486528577.0
Think about it: Senator Warren was silenced in the U.S. Senate for reading the words of Coretta Scott King. We are losing our democracy.— George Takei (@George Takei) 1486526535.0
You silenced TWO WOMEN today — King and Warren — and you are a racist misogynist turtle who has ZERO ethical compas… https://t.co/zpseRdPSoo— Marcie Bianco (@Marcie Bianco) 1486531444.0
#McConnell horrible misogynist. He silenced Warren, but would never have done that to a democratic man like Schumer. Shame!— Joyce Sullivan (@Joyce Sullivan) 1486519674.0
A bunch of old white men just told a female Senator of the United States to sit down and shut up. Warren #CorettaScottKing #LetLizSpeak— Denise Ingram (@Denise Ingram) 1486525367.0
Sen. McConnell stopped Sen. Warren from reading the words of Mrs. Coretta Scott King about Jeff Sessions racial stands, in the Senate.— Reverend Al Sharpton (@Reverend Al Sharpton) 1486520114.0
@SenateMajLdr We object to you McConnell. You're a Treasonous, Misogynist, Bigot. I demand an apology from you to Sen Warren, King Fam & USA— Or High Water (@Or High Water) 1486521173.0
I wonder what @SenateMajLdr thought he was accomplishing by shutting Elizabeth Warren down WHILE SHE WAS QUOTING CORETTA KING. #LetLizSpeak— Joy Reid (@Joy Reid) 1486529073.0
Silencing Elizabeth Warren for breaking an arcane senate rule was simply a more genteel way of telling a woman to sit down and shut up.— shauna (@shauna) 1486522477.0
Others, like Republican commentator Ana Navarro, noted that McConnell's actions will only help spread Warren's message.
If Warren had been allowed to read CSK letter, it'd been pretty ho-hum. Instead, McConnell inadvertently elevated her status & cause.— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@Ana Navarro-Cárdenas) 1486528664.0
Warren had vowed to fight Sessions' nomination in November, calling him a racist and demanding Trump turn away from "bigotry" by retracting the pick. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came out in support of his colleague and batted down accusations of racism, while Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already announced he will vote against Sessions. The confirmation debate is expected to wrap up Wednesday.