Schumer & Gillibrand Slam Mitch McConnell for Silencing Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

New York’s Democratic Senators have joined in denouncing the late-Tuesday night actions by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to steamroll over opposition to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s conservative nominee for Attorney General.

In front of a nearly empty chamber in an address broadcast on sparsely-watched C-SPAN 2, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King that the widow of the late civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Sen. Strom Thurmond when Sessions was then being considered for the federal bench.

Taking to the Senate floor, McConnell (R-KY) invoked an obscure Senate rule to silence Warren from any further debate on Sessions’ AG nomination. The Kentucky Republican said the Massachusetts Democrat had “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.” Sessions has been a Senator for two decades.

Clearly stunned, Warren was ordered to take her seat and in essence, shut up. Afterwards, Senate Republicans voted 49 to 43 to uphold the objection that she had breached the rules of debate.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, said Wednesday morning that McConnell had violated the Senate’s tradition of mutual respect and comity by using “the most selective enforcement of a rarely-used procedure to interrupt her…to silence her.” He accused his Republican colleagues of being “far too zealous” and that they were “guilty of the same thing they were trying to police.”

“Sen. Warren wasn’t hurling wild accusations,” said Schumer. “She was reading a thoughtful and considered letter from a leading civil rights figure.” New York’s senior senator pointed out that “anyone who watches the Senate floor on a daily basis could tell you that what happened last night was the most selective enforcement of Rule 19.”

He recalled how a Senator labeled the leadership of Democratic Sen. Harry Reid “cancerous” and said the Nevada senator “doesn’t care about the safety of our troops.” Those remarks weren’t seen as a Rule 19 violation. “But reading a letter from Coretta Scott King—that was too much,” said Schumer.

“Just last week I heard a friend from the other side accuse me of engaging in a ‘tear-jerking performance’ that belonged at the Screen Actors Guild awards,” continued Schumer. “It was only the second time that week I had been accused of fake tears on the floor of the Senate, but I didn’t run to the floor to invoke Rule 19.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has opposed every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees so far, shared Schumer’s sentiments and retweeted a hashtag in support of Sen. Warren that has gone viral: “This is absolutely outrageous. #LetLizSpeak.”

McConnell inadvertently launched a viral Twitter-ready soundbite that had legs when he defended his extraordinary action. “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” the Senate majority leader said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” That last phrase has started showing up on pro-Warren T-shirts and hashtags.

Schumer said that McConnell and his fellow Republicans have “a shocking double standard” regarding free speech in the Senate chamber and at the Trump White House.

“While the Senator from Massachusetts has my Republican colleagues up in arms by simply reciting the words of a civil rights leader,” Schumer continued, “my Republican colleagues can hardly summon a note of disapproval for an Administration that insults a federal judge; tells the news media to ‘shut up’; offhandedly threatens a state legislator’s career; and seems to invent new dimensions of falsehood each and every day.”

Rebuked by the Senate majority leader, Warren wound up reading the 10-page letter outside the chamber on Facebook Live, which has been seen by more than 8 million people—exponentially more than routinely tune into C-SPAN 2.

In Coretta Scott King’s letter to South Carolina Sen. Thurmond—who had run for president in 1948 as the candidate from the pro-segregation States Rights Party—she said she opposed Sessions’ confirmation to the federal district court because, as the US Attorney in Alabama, he had 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.”

Back then, senators on both sides of the aisle joined in rejecting his nomination to the federal court. In 2017, only Democratic senators are expressing their opposition to Sessions’ nomination to become the most powerful law enforcement officer in the nation.

“Our country desperately needs an Attorney General who will reject discrimination in all forms,” said Gillibrand in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We need an Attorney General who will defend our civil rights and human rights, with no exception. We need an Attorney General who will not be afraid to challenge the president if an order is illegal or unconstitutional. Sen. Sessions has not made it clear that he will use his power as attorney general to stand up for the voiceless and the oppressed, or to stand up to the president when he’s wrong.”

As for the leading voice of the elected Democrats on Capitol Hill, Schumer admitted he was put in a hard spot for opposing Sessions’ nomination but he had to, because the Alabaman’s record is “clearly troubling.”

“I ride with him on the bike in the gym,” said Schumer in a speech he gave Tuesday, “but he is not, if you can say one thing about him, he’s not independent of Donald Trump. He’s supported Donald Trump from the very beginning—even when Donald Trump didn’t look like he was going to be much of a candidate.”

Schumer recalled what happened two weeks ago when Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend the president’s Muslim travel ban because she said it was unlawful.

“We just had an acting Attorney General stand up to the President,” said Schumer. “That’s going to be a real test in this Administration because there seems to little regard for an independent judiciary—even for the Constitution itself.”

Echoing Coretta Scott King’s opinion from decades ago, Schumer said Sessions’ record disqualified him.

“He would be wrong at any time because of his record on immigration, civil rights and voting rights,” Schumer said, “but particularly wrong now because we need someone who has some degree of independence from the President.”

Despite the heated opposition, Democrats did not have the votes in the Senate to block Sessions from becoming the country’s top law enforcement official. His nomination passed Wednesday night, 52-47.

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