Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mitch McConnell's day of infamy is Elizabeth Warren's victory

John Nichols at The Nation describes The Final Shaming of Mitch McConnell. When he silenced Elizabeth Warren for criticizing Jeff Sessions, the majority leader disgraced himself and the “Party of Lincoln.

During the Senate debate on the nomination of Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to serve as Donald Trump’s attorney general, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren referred to portions of a letter written three decades ago by Coretta Scott King in opposition to the nomination of Sessions to serve as a federal judge. In that letter, the widow of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. recalled how Sessions had as a US Attorney prosecuted voting-rights activists in Alabama and wrote:

Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.…

Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.

As Warren was recalling those last devastating words on Tuesday night, McConnell interrupted her and objected that: “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama…”

A shocked Warren responded: ““I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.” Asserting that the senator who holds the seat once occupied by Edward Kennedy had violated Senate rules against assailing the reputation of a colleague,” McConnell objected. Warren appealed but Montana Senator Steve Daines, who was chairing the Senate session, interrupted her and announced, “Objection is heard. The senator will take her seat.”

A pair of party-line votes supported McConnell’s draconian interpretation of the rules, which if taken to its logical conclusion could effectively silence meaningful debate on any presidential nominee who is a sitting senator.

In fact, McConnell claimed that his colleague had to be silenced because: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Those words will be worn as a badge of honor by Warren. Indeed, progressives who hope the senator will seek the presidency in 2020 will undoubtedly employ them as a campaign slogan.

For McConnell, however, there is no honor. The man who holds the seat once occupied by his mentor and hero John Sherman Cooper has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to silence the recollection of Coretta Scott King’s warning that entrusting Jeff Sessions to uphold the rule of law would have “a devastating effect…on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”

Mitch McConnell has shamed himself and the Senate.

I take mild exception. McConnell has repeatedly proven himself to be without shame. And his Republican vassals in the Senate have proved themselves to be equally nefarious. To wit:

The majority leader made no apologies for barring Warren—a former Harvard Law School professor and former Vice President of the American Law Institute—from further participation in the Senate debate on whether to make Sessions the next Attorney General of the United States. (McConnell’s Republicans and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin cast 52 votes to confirm the Alabaman, while Warren and the rest of the Democratic caucus votes “no.”)

Here’s an update from the New York Times on how Shutting Down Speech by Elizabeth Warren, G.O.P. Amplifies Her Message.

Mr. McConnell’s coda has already been repurposed as a sort of rallying cry. Across social media, Ms. Warren’s allies and supporters posted with the hashtag #shepersisted, …

After the vote to bar Ms. Warren from speaking further about Mr. Sessions, other senators, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Tom Udall of New Mexico, read Mrs. King’s letter without facing any objection, prompting some activists to raise charges of sexism.

Ms. Warren has long displayed an instinct for capitalizing on highly visible fights. After she was barred from speaking on the Senate floor, she began reading the 1986 letter from Mrs. King on Facebook. By Wednesday evening, the video had attracted more than nine million views.

On Wednesday morning, in a conference room in the Capitol — the vote prohibited Ms. Warren from speaking about the nomination only from the Senate floor — Ms. Warren addressed civil rights leaders, recounting her long night.

“What hit me the hardest was, it is about silence,” she said. “It’s about trying to shut people up. It’s about saying, ‘No, no, no, just go ahead and vote.’”

She went on.

“This is going to be hard,” she said. “We don’t have the tools. There’s going to be a lot that we will lose. But I guarantee, the one thing we will not lose, we will not lose our voices.”

I hope that Warren has the last word in 2020: “… Ms. Warren is considered a very early front-runner for 2020, should she run.”

FYI: John Nichols returns to our community on March 12th for a dinner and program. Stay tuned for details.

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