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Senate GOP votes to silence Warren after speech against Sessions

February 8, 2017

 The Senate voted to bar Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from speaking on the floor Tuesday night after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said her blistering comments about fellow Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President Trump's pick for attorney general, broke Senate rules. 

 Senators rebuked Warren in a 49-43 party-line vote, rejecting Warren's push to overturn a ruling by Senate Republicans that she had violated the rules during a Senate floor speech. 

 Warren needed a simple majority to overturn the ruling by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who was presiding over the the Senate during Warren's speech.  

 The move means the progressive senator won't be allowed to speak from the floor until after the Senate wraps up its debate on Sessions's nomination, expected to occur on Wednesday evening. 

 The drama on the Senate floor comes after McConnell interrupted Warren's speech, accusing her of breaking the upper chamber's guidelines. 

 “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “I call the senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19.”

Under the Senate’s Rule 19, senators are not allowed to “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."

Warren offered a blistering speech against Sessions's nomination, arguing he wouldn’t stand up to Trump’s “campaign of bigotry.”

“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.”

Warren quoted a 1986 speech from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who referred to Sessions as a “throwback to a shameful era” and a “disgrace” to the Justice Department.

Daines — who at times was repeating words being said to him by GOP Senate floor staff — initially interrupted Warren to warn her that she was on the brink of violating the rule.

McConnell also specifically pointed to Warren quoting a letter from the late Coretta Scott King, a civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr., as evidence that she had broken the rules.

Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986, during Sessions's failed confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship, that he “had used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens" as a U.S. attorney in Alabama

When Warren said she was "surprised" by McConnell's actions and asked to continue, the Republican objected and was backed up by Daines, effectively ending Warren's speech. 

Warren rejected McConnell's move, tweeting to her millions of followers that she "will not be silent while the Republicans rubber stamp an AG who will never stand up to the @POTUS when he breaks the law."

Democrats jumped on the connection to King, with some saying that the GOP was seeking to silence a civil rights icon. Republicans countered that they were trying to keep floor debate civil and condemned Warren for attacking Sessions in such strong terms.

 McConnell defended the decision, noting Warren had been warned. 

 "Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation," he said after the vote. "Nevertheless, she persisted."

 The showdown between the popular progressive senator and the Senate's top Republican sparked near immediate backlash among Democrats, spawning the Twitter hashtag #LetLizSpeak.

 "It is demeaning to the memory of Coretta Scott King and harmful to the process for the Republicans to silence," Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said on Twitter, adding #LetLizSpeak.

 Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tried to get King's letter submitted into the Senate record, but Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) objected.

Democrats also argued that Republicans were selectively enforcing the rule. They noted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was not formally found to have violated the rules when he accused McConnell of being a "liar" from the Senate floor. 

"If the average American heard someone read a letter from Coretta Scott King ... they would not be offended," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "It seems to me that we could use Rule 19 almost every day on the floor of the Senate. This is selective enforcement."

Daines — at the prodding of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) — noted that just because Warren broke the rules doesn't mean she was being untruthful.

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) urged their colleagues to dial down their rhetoric, arguing they were at risk of fundamentally changing the Senate. 

 "Turn on the news and watch these parliaments around the world where people throw chairs at each other. ... I'm not arguing that we're anywhere near that here, but we're flirting with it," Rubio said. "We have become a society incapable of having debates anymore." 

 Hatch — while noting he wasn't sure Warren's remarks rose to the level of violating Senate rules — argued Democrats are treating Sessions like he is a "terrible person." 

 "All of us need to take stock and need to start thinking about the people on the other side of the aisle and need to start thinking about how we might bring each other together," he said.

 Source: http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/318422-senate-votes-to-silence-warren-after-sessions-speech