Editorials

Elizabeth Warren #Persists, but Jeff Sessions is new attorney general

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks Wednesday about being rebuked by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for her criticism of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was confirmed as attorney general.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks Wednesday about being rebuked by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for her criticism of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was confirmed as attorney general. The Associated Press

To no one’s surprise, U.S. Senate Republicans late Wednesday confirmed their good friend, Sen. Jeff Sessions, to be U.S. attorney general, but not before handing Sen. Elizabeth Warren a gift.

Nearly 50 minutes into her speech, Warren started denouncing Sessions for voting against a bill to protect women against sexual assault and domestic violence, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell interrupted her to explain the ways of the U.S. Senate, invoke an arcane rule and silence her.

It didn’t work.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” McConnell said, in a comment that was intended to stifle Warren but instead was ricocheting across the internet.

Like other Senate Democrats, Warren spoke out against Sessions, the Alabama Republican who is President Donald Trump’s selection to be attorney general. And like the others, Warren’s speech would have received no more than passing attention.

The Massachusetts senator and possible Democratic presidential candidate read from a 1986 statement by one of her predecessors, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who 30 years earlier opposed Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship, calling him a “disgrace to the Justice Department.”

Then Warren read from a nine-page written statement by the late Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, who also opposed Sessions’ 1986 judicial appointment, citing his antagonism toward voting rights for African Americans.

Halfway through Warren’s speech, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who was presiding over the Senate on Tuesday night, invoked something called Rule XIX, warning her against impugning the motives or conduct of another senator.

Warren persisted, saying she was merely quoting from an American icon. And she proceeded to finish reading Mrs. King’s Senate testimony from 31 years ago: “ ‘I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for an appointment to the federal district court.’ 

Fully 49 minutes into her speech, long after she had finished reading the statement from Kennedy and Mrs. King’s letter, Warren shifted, recalling that in 2013, “Sessions voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.” Just as she began quoting from one of her home state newspapers’ descriptions of the terrible consequences of sexual assault and domestic violence, Daines interrupted Warren again, this time to give the floor to McConnell.

“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair,” McConnell said, one hand in his pants pocket. “I call the senator to order under the provisions of Rule XIX.”

When Warren tried to speak up, McConnell said: “I object.”

“The senator will take her seat,” Daines told Warren.

Much as Senate Republicans tried to “mansplain,” Warren would not be silenced.

She left the Senate chamber and read Mrs. King’s letter on Facebook. Then she made an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC. On Facebook and Twitter, barometers of what people are chattering about, Elizabeth Warren, #LetLizSpeak and #ShePersists were atop the charts. Also trending, no doubt, is Warren’s fundraising.

Fellow Democrats rushed to her defense and read the letter on the Senate floor. But they were unable to stop his confirmation and Sessions will take his seat at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. We all soon will see how he enforces civil rights, voting rights and equal rights. We don’t hold out much hope.

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