The Warren Omission

So, last night, on the floor of the Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, when she was reading the words of Coretta Scott King in opposition to Senator Jeff Sessions' nomination as U.S. Attorney General. The words came from a 1986 letter Coretta Scott King wrote during Sessions' failed nomination for a federal judgeship 30 years ago.

As Warren is speaking, she is interrupted by McConnell, and looks up, shocked.

McConnell: Mr. President. Mr. President.

Presiding Senator: The Majority Leader.

McConnell: The Senators impugn the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama; is warned by the chair. Senator Warren said, quote, "Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by Black citizens." I call the Senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19.

Warren: Mr. President.

Presiding Senator: The Senator from Massachusetts.

Warren: Mr. President, 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.

Presiding Senator: Is there objection?

McConnell: Object.

Warren: I appeal the ruling—

Presiding Senator: Objection is heard. The Senator will take her seat.

Warren: Mr. President, I appeal the ruling of the chair, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

Presiding Senator: The clerk will call the role.
Rule 19 of the Senate stipulates that senators are not allowed to "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." Which, in this case, simply consisted of reading a factual recounting of Sessions' own record. A record, I will add, that was considered so egregiously racist 30 years ago that he was denied a federal judgeship.

After being silenced on the Senate Floor, Warren read the letter on a Facebook livestream. It has, as of this writing, been viewed 5.4 million times.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted on an extraordinary call to rebuke her, and the vote fell along partisan lines, 49-43, because not a single Republican Senator had the decency to defend her right to read the words of a Black woman about their white colleague's racism during Black History Month.

McConnell later defended the vote to rebuke her: "Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

The way Warren was treated is absolutely appalling—and it deeply alarming that Republicans treated the words of Coretta Scott King with such contempt. Coretta Scott King was a civil rights activist and voting rights advocate of historical, national importance. That her witness of Sessions' racism was treated like inflammatory defamation, instead of the factual recounting of her own lived experience and that of her community, is a chilling indication of the white supremacy that has permeated every level of Republican governance.

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