Today on the floor of the US Senate, Elizabeth Warren, Senator of the State of Massachusetts, took to the podium to speak against the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to the post of Attorney General of the United States. Warren was in the middle of an impassioned speech when she began reading the text a letter from Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, wrote to Senator Strom Thurmond in 1986. At the time Mrs. King requested that her letter be read on the floor of the Senate because she could not be there in person during the confirmation hearings of Jeff Sessions who was at the time nominated to be a federal district judge. In large part because of Mrs. King’s letter, the Senate, which was then controlled by the Republicans, refused to confirm Mr. Sessions. (The text of Mrs. King’s letter follows this article.)
As you probably know by now, Senator Warren was interrupted by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority leader, who invoked Senate Rule 19, Paragraph 2, which states, ‘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.” As a consequence, Senator Warren was moved out of order by the chair and told to take her seat. She also not was allowed to further participate in Senator Sessions’ confirmation hearing.
Let’s set aside for the time being the ridiculous nature of applying the rule in this instance. Any rational human being can determine that one cannot have a full and honest debate on the merits of a nominee when anyone speaking against him is silenced. That point is not even worth discussing. It is the McConnell’s mindset and political decision to evoke the rule that I want to bring into question.
Why on earth would the leader of the Republicans in the Senate do such a thing? Everybody knows that Sessions will be confirmed by the Senate to be the next Attorney General. The Republicans have the votes and all the Democrats can do is try to slow the process. If Elizabeth Warren had simply been able to read King’s letter and complete her remarks, there would have been a good chance that you and I and most of the rest of the world would not have ever learned what she had to say.
By censuring Senator Warren on the Senate floor for trying to read a letter written about the nominee by the well respected wife of the nations’ biggest civil icon, McConnell ensured that every well informed American will not only learn of what he did, but also they will know exactly what Mrs. King had to say about Senator Sessions as well. This was a political blunder of the highest magnitude. So again, why would McConnell, who is presumably a smart politician, do something so politically inept?
One can only assumed that he was completely frustrated by the Democrat’s tactics, and decided to play hard ball. If so, Elizabeth Warren and her fellow Democrats can declare at least a partial victory. If your political opponents are going to get their way regardless, at least encourage them to look as stupid as possible in the process. Mitch McConnell needs to put on his big boy pants and remember what goes around comes around. Eight years ago he declared, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president. (McConnell as quoted in the National Journal, November 4, 2010. )
Then he and his fellow Republicans in the Senate and the House set forth do exactly that by opposing every proposal ever made by the President, even some that were originally championed by those in their own ranks. Then in an unprecedented move, McConnell refused to move forward for almost a year with Senate confirmation hearings of the President’s extremely well qualified nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Now McConnell is getting frustrated because the Democrats are trying to slow the confirmation of some of the worst nominees to become members of a Presidents’ cabinet in recent memory? Get a grip Mitch. Someday soon your party will again be in the minority in the Senate and what goes around comes around.
It’s going to be a long four years.
The full text of Coretta Scott King’s letter follows.
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 to 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. Fro this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
I regret that a long-standing commitment prevents me form 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 letter be made a part of the hearing record.
I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions.
(Signed Coretta Scott King)
Mrs. King also wrote:
“The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” “I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”