WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans silenced Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren for criticizing colleague and attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions with the words of Coretta Scott King from three decades ago.
The Massachusetts lawmaker, whose name has been prominent in speculation about the 2020 presidential race, was given a rare Senate rebuke for impugning a fellow senator late Tuesday and barred from saying anything more on the Senate floor about the nominee.
The chamber is debating the Alabama Republican’s nomination for attorney general, with Democrats dropping senatorial niceties to oppose Sessions and Republicans sticking up for him.
Warren produced a three-decade-old letter in which the civil rights leader wrote that Sessions as an acting federal prosecutor in Alabama used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
Quoting King technically put Warren in violation of an arcane Senate rule for “impugning the motives” of Sessions, though senators have said far worse. And Warren was reading from a letter that was written 10 years before Sessions was even elected to the Senate.
Still, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell invoked the rule. After a few parliamentary moves, the GOP-controlled Senate voted to back him up.
Now, Warren is forbidden from speaking again on Sessions’ nomination. A vote on Sessions is expected Wednesday evening.
Democrats seized on the flap to charge that Republicans were muzzling Warren, sparking liberals to take to Twitter to post the King letter in its entirety.
Warren argued: “I’m reading a letter from Coretta Scott King to the Judiciary Committee from 1986 that was admitted into the record. I’m simply reading what she wrote about what the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be a federal court judge meant and what it would mean in history for her.”
Warren was originally warned after reading from a statement by former Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that labeled Sessions a disgrace.
Democrats pointed out that McConnell didn’t object when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called him a liar in a 2015 dustup.
The episode was followed by lamentations by Senate veterans, including its most senior Republican, Orrin Hatch of Utah, about how the Senate is too partisan.
The full text of King’s letter is below.
Dear Senator Thurmond:
I write to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. 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.
I regret that a long-standing commitment prevents me from appearing in person to testify against this nominee. However, I have attached a copy of my statement opposing Mr. Sessions’ confirmation and I request that my statement as well as this be made a part of the hearing record.
I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions.
Coretta Scott King