Senate Republicans passed a party-line rebuke Tuesday night of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for a speech opposing attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, striking down her words for impugning the Alabama senator’s character.On Monday night, Democrats engaged in an all-night debate before the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as education secretary, and this incident last night was part of an equally futile all-night debate on Sessions. I admit I've been skeptical of these marathon sessions -- Democrats can't stop the Republican rubber-stamping of these nominees, so once the final results are inevitable, what's the point of doing anything except voting no as a bloc? Congressional debates aren't really debates; nobody's mind is ever changed, and most of what's said is unmemorable.
In an extraordinarily rare move, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) interrupted Warren’s speech ... and said that she had breached Senate rules by reading past statements against Sessions from figures such as the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the late Coretta Scott King....
In setting up the votes to rebuke Warren, McConnell specifically cited portions of a letter that King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to Sessions’s 1986 nomination to be a federal judge....
The Senate voted, 49 to 43, strictly on party lines, to uphold the ruling.... Warren was ordered to sit down and forbidden from speaking during the remainder of the debate on the nomination of Sessions.
“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said after McConnell’s motion.
Well, this was memorable. It's rallied the base, and McConnell's subsequent words defending the rebuke have gone viral.
You can already buy T-shirts with McConnell's words.
But last night Rachel Maddow reported on this and said of McConnell -- I'm quoting from memory -- "Is this the hill he wants to die on?" I understand the question: He silenced the words of a national hero's widow on the Senate floor! But I'm sure he'll be just fine.
What we learned in November, if we didn't already know it, is that civil rights fights don't inspire a unifying admiration among Americans. As much as 46% of the electorate is tired of hearing about the struggles of non-whites, and votes accordingly. So of course McConnell has no qualms about preventing Elizabeth Warren from reading Coretta Scott King's words on the Senate floor. Of course he and 48 of his fellow Republicans would vote to uphold that ban. None of their voters will object. None of their voters revere the Kings that much (or at all).
So this fired up the Democratic base, but it didn't alienate Republican voters. That's something, but I wish it meant more.