Republicans took the extraordinary step of silencing Democratic Senator Elizabeth “Don’t Call Me Pocahontas” Warren on Tuesday when her speech opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions went well beyond the scope of civilized debate. In the midst of quoting Martin Luther King’s widow and the late Ted Kennedy, Warren was warned by Sen. Steve Daines that she was perilously close to violating the Senate’s rules of decorum.
After quoting from a letter written by Coretta Scott King, who said in 1986 that Sessions “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” Warren was asked to stop her speech.
“It is a violation of Rule XIX of the Standing Rules of the Senate to impute another senator, or senator’s conduct or motive unbecoming a senator,” said Daines, who was presiding over the day’s hearing.
Warren rejected the warning, insisting that she was merely quoting from the Senate record – even if that record was more than 30 years old. She dismissed Daines’s efforts to reign her in and continued to lambast Sessions for another half an hour before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided he’d heard enough.
“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” said McConnell. He argued that Warren had repeatedly broken the rule and thus should be silenced.
“The senator will take her seat,” said Daines, in agreement with McConnell.
Warren vigorously objected to the ruling, but the Senate confirmed Daines’s decision with a 49-43 vote, effectively bringing her speech to an end.
As satisfying as it may be to see the GOP take a hard line with Democrats who are trying to make a name for themselves in advance of a presidential run, we have to question the political wisdom of Tuesday’s turn of events. While we can certainly sympathize with Senate Republicans who were sick of listening to Warren recite ancient history, their hasty reaction immediately turned this into a national story. Instead of being heard by a few hundred bored C-Span viewers, Warren now gets to spread her message to millions on social media.
Warren could have stood at the lectern and called Sessions every name in the book and it wouldn’t have stopped him from being confirmed as the next U.S. Attorney General. True, it’s important for the Senate to maintain civil debate, but it’s much more important to avoid giving the Democrats unearned political fuel.
Don’t just play hard, Republicans. Play smart.