It’s been a tough week for Democratic Senators. Although they fought Betsy DeVos’ nomination for US Education Secretary with a marathon floor session on Monday night, DeVos was confirmed yesterday with Vice President Mike Pence coming in to break a historic 50-50 tie. Now, the confirmation vote for US Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions is on the line and Democrats are jumping right back into the ring. They held the floor again last night, hoping to convince Republican Senators to vote against Sessions. This is a standard part of the democratic process, but late last night when Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took to the podium, she was abruptly silenced by the Republican Party. Watch that chilling moment here:
How is it possible for Republicans to do something like this, and why would they? Let’s start with a little bit of background: Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge by President Reagan. During the Senate hearing to confirm the position, Thomas Figures, a then-assistant US Attorney who had worked under Sessions during a trial involving the KKK, told the committee that Sessions once said he thought the KKK was “okay until I found out they smoked pot.” The late Figures, who was black, also reportedly told senators that Sessions had called him “boy” and warned him about talking a certain way to white people (Sessions has since stated that these remarks have been taken out of context). In response to the allegations against Sessions, Coretta Scott King (MLK’s wife) penned a letter to the Senate expressing her concern about Sessions’ nomination.
Last night, Warren began reading that letter during her time on the floor. But while she was about midway through, Republican Senators voted to silence her on the grounds of “impugning a peer” (remember, Sessions is currently an Alabama Senator). Majority leader Mitch McConnell objected saying, “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair.” Warren argued that she was simply reading from a document that was read in court years ago. The decision then went to a party-line vote that resulted in a 49 to 43 decision to uphold the Republicans’ decision, forcing Ms. Warren into silence.
While she might have to adhere to certain formalities in the Senate, Warren isn’t one to be silenced. Immediately after this tense exchange, Warren went live on Facebook just outside the doors of the Senate and read the letter in full to her 2.9 million followers. She also took to Twitter to express her thoughts on how this incident went down.
The Republicans’ controversial move may have gotten the party what they wanted in the moment, but in a time when women are vigorously fighting for the right be heard, this move hasn’t been well-received by the public. The decision has not only angered other Democratic Senators in the Senate — it has lifted Warren up as a defiant hero. Immediately after Republicans enacted Rule XIX, the hashtags #letlizspeak and #ShePersisted emerged. Additionally, that letter they didn’t want read aloud has now been included and/or mentioned in nearly every major publication this morning.
Update: This morning Senator Bernie Sanders took to the floor and just read the same letter Warren tried to read last night.
Senators Tom Udall, Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley have also read the letter since Warren’s incident. None of these four were silenced. This is likely because Republican Senators don’t want to make a bad situation worse. An official vote for Jeff Sessions is expected to take place today. Whether he is confirmed or not, one this is now certain: Coretta Scott King’s letter has been heard loud and clear.
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(Photo via Getty)