The Senate’s Insidious Hypocritical Rebuke (Update)

It’s a truism that free speech is usually defended on behalf of the most despised among us, putting me in the unpleasant position of speaking out for Elizabeth Warren. The junior senator from Massachusetts sought to read a 30-year-old letter from Coretta Scott King, dating to Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’ failed effort to be confirmed as an Article III judge.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has earned a rare rebuke by the Senate for — believe it or not — quoting Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor.

The Massachusetts Democrat ran afoul of the chamber’s arcane rules by reading a 30-year-old letter from Dr. Martin Luther King’s widow that dated to Sen. Jeff Sessions’ failed judicial nomination three decades ago.

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.

This was, of course, part of the dog and pony show put on by the nation’s most genteel deliberative body for public consumption. There was nothing new about the letter, or the characterization of Sessions it reflected. Warren was playing to her tribe, using the Senate as her stage. This isn’t exactly a new thing in Congress.

The very idea of having to listen to Warren read from King’s letter is cringeworthy. She is a shrill, hyper-partisan attack dog, reflecting the worst and lowest of progressive politics. But she is, despite all odds, a United States Senator. As insufferable as it may be to have to endure the sound of her voice, it is the price of holding a seat in the chamber. Nobody forced Mitch McConnell or any Senate Republican to seek and hold office.

Still, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell invoked the rules. 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.

That there are rules to protect the gentlemen’s club isn’t surprising. The set-up is to damn with faint praise, to avoid the vulgar and rise above the banal. Warren couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accommodate the rules. She’s not the first to fall short, as when Ted Cruz called McConnell a liar. Hypocrisy happens to everyone, you see, and the only saving grace this time was that McConnell held sufficient votes to end Warren’s screeching.

To the extent the Senate feigns graciousness, McConnell’s maneuver made him play the role of the goad in Warren’s dog and pony show. Did King’s letter hurt the Republicans’ feelings? Was it too vulgar, challenging Sessions’ racist history, for the delicate ears of senators to hear? This was such a petty affair, such a well-known accusation against Sessions, that letting it play out would have harmed no one and raised no issues. But McConnell just couldn’t do it, and so now we’re left to defend the dreaded Elizabeth Warren’s right to speak.

But Sessions is awful, and so Warren had no choice but to risk rebuke to make her case? Of course he’s awful. Whether he will prove to be the worst attorney general ever is hard to say, as the bar is so very low. We have had some truly bad attorneys general in the past couple generations, so that it’s unclear how the worst would be measured. Even the “good ones” were bad, and the bad ones were worse. Sessions will almost assuredly rank among the worst.

“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 said.

Senators have visions of themselves remembered as great orators, brilliant debaters, uttering words of wisdom in stentorian voices that will move Americans, stir their passions, for generations. Despite the millions upon millions of words murdered in that chamber, few are remembered by anyone. Elizabeth Warren’s reading of this letter might have made a blurb in a newspaper for a day and then been promptly forgotten. This isn’t a reflection on Coretta Scott King, whose credibility speaks for itself, but that there is no one interested in the AG position or politics who hasn’t heard all this before.

In a weird and unfortunate way, McConnell has done Warren a huge favor by making her effort to read this letter, to play to her crowd, to condemn her fellow senator and the next attorney general, memorable. Silencing speakers, including a senator, is an extreme act, an unwarranted act, a disingenuous act by the Senate Majority Leader. Why was Warren such a threat? Why did he need to silence Warren? Why make Elizabeth Warren a free speech martyr?

All this so senators wouldn’t have to hear the words of Coretta Scott King?

No. Of course not. The senators’ ears won’t fall off if they hear mean accusations against one of their own.

King wrote that when acting as a federal prosecutor, Sessions used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”

Back in the 80s, Jeff Sessions was a racist. That’s different than a racist today. Back then, being a racist took some effort, some flagrant animus toward blacks. Today, the word “racist” has been reduced to meaninglessness. Everybody who isn’t on the cutting left edge of progressivism is racist. But for Sessions to be rejected as a federal judge because he was too much of a racist in the 80s was a shocking condemnation.

The salient question today is whether Jeff Sessions is still the racist he was in 1986, when he was rejected by the Senate as an Article III judge. As for his regressive and astoundingly simplistic grasp of criminal law, there is little question. Then again, that has been a job qualification for AG for both parties for a very long time.

So let Elizabeth Warren speak. Let Warren read the letter. Let Warren condemn Sessions, shriek to the chamber about how awful he is and how harmful he will be. Much as we condemn children for silencing Milo and punching the pseudo-Nazi weasel, it’s no more acceptable when it’s Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

If there is a metric for bad censors, McConnell may win a prize, not only for silencing a fellow senator but for embodying the political hypocrisy that forces us all to suffer the worst of American politics. Here I am, defending Elizabeth Warren. I hate that you made me do this, Mitch. But do it I will.

Update: Gail Collins at the New York Times grabs Warren by her vagina:

We will now pause to contemplate the fact that this week the Senate Republicans attempted to forward their agenda by silencing Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow.

In explanation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell basically called Warren a pushy girl.

By “basically,” Collins means he said nothing of the sort, and so she’s going to make it up. There was no evidence to suggest that McConnell’s rebuke had anything to do with Warren being female, but because she is female, why not?!?

And how does this baseless appeal to genitalia play with the Times’ demographic? Not as well as one might suspect:

What occurred to Senator Warren is just another example of bigotry to Native Americans. Native Americans across America need to unite…

In the oppression Olympics, there’s always someone who’s a bigger loser.

18 thoughts on “The Senate’s Insidious Hypocritical Rebuke (Update)

  1. The 0racle of HyAnus C0urt

    We warned you a couple of days ago that our beloved Pocahontas was coming on strong, and you rebuked us with one of your [tired] “down-the-rabbit-hole” retorts. Sen. McConnell has painted himself into a corner. Liz now wins the day, as implementation of the technical rules violation backfires spectacularly.

    Two further thoughts: Why is it that we hated the “shrill” Hillary so much, but luv the shrill ‘Lizabeth now? Inquiring Minds! Finally, on this very blawg, we were early supporters of Mr. Sessions for AG last month, and we explained why. Reasons were posted. So there is some irony that we still support Mr. Sessions and luv Liz’s theatrics as well at the same time. Thanx for your cogent analysis, and supporting our beloved senator in her hour of need.

    All the best,
    BB

    1. SHG Post author

      Good morning, Bill. Did I ask that you wait until someone posted a sane comment before introducing Pocahontas into the mix? Exercise that restraint for which you’re famous.

      1. Rick Horowitz

        At the risk of saying something ironic, I think he’s more famous for needing to be restrained, nu?

        At any rate, what strikes me as even more bizarre about silencing Warren is that she was reading something that supposedly had been received into evidence. So if it was already where the other Senators could see it, but where probably most ordinary citizens would not, it seems they weren’t trying to stop her hurting their ears so much as trying to keep more regular people from knowing they knew it.

        And, in that respect, it seems they tripped a little over Streisand. Some of us would not have heard what she did, if they hadn’t shut her down.

        I wonder what it will take for us to realize ignoring speech we don’t like, and speaking our own speech instead of trying to shut someone else up, is more effective in the long run.

        1. Keith

          Everyone thinks they know better than Mitch. Perhaps, he realizes that the play McCaskill made (elevating Akin so she could beat him easily) would work even better with Warren.

          Does she play real well to the coasts? Yup. And she’s shrill enough in flyover territory to ensure the oval stays red. So yea, let’s Streisand the hell out of her. And let’s make sure everyone thinks we blew it. If the last election showed us anything, it’s that the left loves being right.

  2. Dan Gray

    Scott, you use the phrase “free speech” several times here, and even compare Elizabeth Warren’s situation to that of Milo and Richard Spencer, but is this truly a 1A issue? In this case, it appears that Warren is speaking in her official capacity as a US Senator, not as a private citizen (they don’t let just anyone down on the Senate floor when its in session), whereas Milo and Spencer clearly (thankfully) don’t hold government positions. Or does the “government official speaking in a government capacity” only apply to the Executive branch?

    Should I ask Popehat instead?

    1. Erik H.

      This was ridiculous. The rule against “impugning” conflicts with the role of “advise and consent”–but
      the rule is ministerial and the role is Constitutional. There’s no contest. A Senator who submits himself for consideration before the Senate has implicitly consented to having his feelings hurt by recitation of bad opinions and facts. Otherwise the Senate can’t do its “advise and consent” job properly.

      Too bad the press is only focusing on the King angle.

  3. Neil Faiman

    According to the NYT,her “offense” was “impugning a fellow senator.” So it wasn’t the nasty words per se. If Sessions was just a random citizen, everything would have been cool. But apparently, being a senator gets you extra deference in the Senate, even if the topic is your nomination to a Cabinet seat.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sorry if that wasn’t clear enough in the post, or the link I included which said that, so that it required you to explain it. Yes, that was the Senate rule violated.

      1. cthulhu

        And “How”!

        (Disclaimer: my spouse is an honest-to-god card-carrying Cherokee who has given me explicit permission to make fun of Fauxcahontas at every opportunity.)

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