In the midst of a Democratic protest this evening against the nomination of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as the next attorney general, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., began reading the contents of a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader, protesting his nomination as a U.S. District judge. (That nomination was unsuccessful.)
But 31 years later, Warren was sanctioned by her Senate colleagues for reading the letter on the chamber floor, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said impugned the character of her fellow senator. Here’s the portion of Mrs. King’s letter that Warren tried to read:
“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.”
McConnell stopped Warren in the middle of her speech, saying she broke a rule that bars senators from speaking ill of their colleagues for "any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator." After Warren pushed for a vote to overturn the ruling of the Republican leader, the chamber voted along party lines, 49-43, to back McConnell.
Watch the exchange here:
The Hill newspaper quoted McConnell after the vote as saying Warren "was warned."
“She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” he said, according to the newspaper.
The skirmish was a pretty remarkable one for what was otherwise a quiet Tuesday night, the latest in a series of seemingly escalating standoffs over President Donald Trump's executive nominees.
Republicans have complained about the historically slow pace the Senate has taken to confirm Cabinet members. Meanwhile, Democrats, under pressure from their progressive base, have used every procedural trick at their disposal to draw out and delay action on Trump's picks.
Senate Democrats were quick to decry selective enforcement of the chamber's rules after the Warren episode.
A senior Democratic aide said that under the same rule, Georgia Sen. David Perdue should be cited for saying recently that Sen. Chuck Schumer's, D-N.Y., tears over Trump's refugee policy "belongs at the Screen Actors Guild awards, not in a serious discussion of what it takes to keep America safe." Ditto for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz famously calling McConnell a liar in a blistering 2015 floor speech.
Warren is now barred from speaking on the floor for the remainder of debate on Sessions' nomination. The Senate is expected to confirm the Republican tomorrow evening.
Warren also defended her speech on Twitter: