Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Moment When Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans Attempted to Silence the Opposition

 by Nomad

This week saw an ominous moment in Congressional history. That was the moment when a female US Senator was told shut up and sit down by her male colleagues.

Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren had been attempting to read a 30-year old letter by Coretta Scott King of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship. By reading the letter into the Congressional record on the Senate floor, Warren had planned to King letter as evidence of Session's unfitness to serve as Donald Trump Attorney General.

However, Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell cited Senate Rule XIX - an obscure 115-year-old rule to aimed at keeping Senators from fistfighting. The rule states that Senators are prohibited from impugning another senator.
McConnell said
“She was warned. She was given an explanation Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Warren was then ordered to be silent for the remainder of the debate. In a CNN interview, Senator Warren later said
"I literally can't be recognized on the floor of the Senate. I have become a nonperson during the discussion of Jeff Sessions."
And she added:
"They can shut me up, but they can't change the truth." 
Not surprisingly social media erupted in response.  Vox noted:
Many people took this as an act of censorship and tyranny — the Senate majority leader using an arcane rule to silence a senator who is merely voicing a civil rights hero’s and her own disapproval of Trump’s attorney general nominee. So they began blasting his own words in a hashtag — #ShePersisted — by citing other women, from Harriet Tubman to Leia Organa (from Star Wars), who resisted oppression.

Women's groups noted too that male members of the Senate opposition, like Tom Udall of New Mexico and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, were able to read the King letter (or parts of it) without the rule being evoked.

Many news organizations were claiming that McConnell's attempt to silence Warren had almost instantly backfired. Had he simply allowed her finish her remarks, few Americans would have paid much attention. New York Times noted that this is just another example of a Congressional majority that keeps "shooting itself in the foot."
Debate is, after all, a fundamental part of the parliamentary process. Silencing free speech is not.

Ultimately, McConnell's tactic, along with near-absolute partisan politics, won the day. Sessions was later confirmed in his position. With the help of Republicans in Congress, Donald Trump now has his Attorney General. Sessions,  a man who once prosecuted legendary voting-rights activists, will now be in charge of ensuring justice for all people.

The late Edward Kennedy once called Sessions
"a throwback to a shameful era, which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past."
Here's the King letter in full.