Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to speak from the congressional floor on Tuesday evening to express her opposition to the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly intervened and initiated a vote that banned her for speaking for the rest of the debate.
Her crime was simple and her punishment symbolic: Warren had intended to read the letter that the late Coretta Scott King sent to the Senate in 1986 to oppose the nomination of Sessions, then Alabama attorney general, to be a federal judge. Warren had already cited unequivocal criticisms of Sessions for his abysmal record on civil rights, particularly from that 1986 debate which in the end denied him a position on the federal bench. But it was King, a civil rights icon and Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife, who pushed them to revolt. "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters," she wrote. "For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship."
Warren was warned that, should she continue, she risked violating a rule that insists that senators refrain from "impugning the motives" of a fellow senator. Warren argued that she wasn't "impugning" Sessions, only quoting from source material. Anyway, Sessions hadn't yet been elected senator when King wrote her letter to Congress. She continued. But a little later, McConnell objected. The Senate voted 49-43, with Republicans choosing to silence her. The vote forbade her not only from continuing but also from speaking at all on the rest of the Sessions debate.
That's when McConnell delivered the line that captures the power of decades of protest and represents the forces that have attempted to drown it out: "[Warren] was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
Of course, this all went viral. Under the hashtag #LetLizSpeak, Twitter exploded.
So let me get this straight. POTUS can tweet insults at senators, fed judges, etc. but Warren is silenced for reading a letter? #letlizspeak- Perk Henderson (@firstperk) February 8, 2017
And in maybe the best use of Facebook Live ever, Warren read the letter that had been struck from the Senate record immediately outside of congressional chambers.
Meanwhile, some on social media observed this certainly isn't the last time we'll be hearing from Warren.
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