WASHINGTON — The Senate Republican Conference chairman suggested this morning that Tuesday night’s official silencing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during the debate on Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-Ala.) attorney general nomination was the culmination of a pattern of rule-breaking behavior.
Senate Rule XIX, which was enacted in 1902 after two South Carolina Dems threw punches on the floor of the chamber, states in part, “No Senator in debate shall, 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.”
During an all-night debate on Sessions’ nomination, Warren slammed her fellow senator, who was the first senator to endorse the current president, for letting Donald Trump’s “campaign of bigotry” continue unfettered.
“He made derogatory and racist comments that should have no place in our justice system,” she said. “To put Sen. Sessions in charge of the Department of Justice is an insult to African-Americans.” She also read quotes disparaging Sessions from late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who was presiding over the Senate, warned Warren she was violating that rule. Warren argued she wasn’t, and was allowed to carry on.
Warren read from a 1986 letter sent by Coretta Scott King to the Senate when Sessions was unsuccessfully nominated for a federal judgeship: “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came to the floor and declared Warren “has impugned the motives and the conduct of our colleague from Alabama as warned by the chair.”
The Senate then voted along party lines, 49-43, to keep Warren from talking anymore during the debate.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.C.) told MSNBC that Warren committed “a clear violation of the rules.”
“And she was, the rules say directly or indirectly impugning the character or conduct of another colleague and she clearly had done that. She crossed that line. She’d been warned before. And so this was simply I think, the whole message behind this was the Senate’s a place where collegiality is supposed to rule. There are rules. We’re supposed to abide those rules. And if those rules are not adhered to, people need to be called out,” Thune said.
“And like I said, this is not a first-time incident. This was something that she had been warned about before. And typically what happens when members are warned about something they’ve said, they heed that warning. But this was impugning the character of a colleague — in this case, Jeff Sessions, who most of us who served with him understand and know he’s a man of absolute integrity.”
Thune stressed again that “this isn’t a first time occurrence; this has happened before.”
“The Senate is a place where decorum is supposed to rule. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can actually have or at least be able to have civilized debate. And so the attempt to rein in members who, whether it’s indirect, reading a letter; or direct attack, who are violating those rules, I think it’s just, that’s one of those things that the Senate ought to be known for,” he continued. “And I think frankly it’s unfortunate that there weren’t more Democrats who would step up and acknowledge that that was crossing a line as well.”
Warren told CNN on Tuesday night that “there have been some harsh words on the United States Senate through the years.”
“But all of a sudden, when I’m reading something, a truthful statement from Coretta Scott King, the answer, ‘nope, can’t say that,'” she said. “…If the truth hurts, then that’s all the more reason to hear it. That’s reason for the American people to hear it.”
Warren called her disciplinary action “a shocking moment — you just can’t believe this sort of thing is going on.”
“And the same sort of thing now with Jeff Sessions. That their argument here is, you can’t talk about the bad things he did. But if we’re — go ahead and talk about Jeff Sessions. That’s fine, if you have nice things to say. If you have nice things to say, you’re allowed to stand up and talk,” she said. “But if you don’t — which I didn’t — then the answer is: you got to sit down and just close your mouth.”