Senate GOP Officially Rebukes Warren Over Speech Slamming Sessions

In an incident that exposed the Senate’s divide over race, Senate Republicans on Tuesday night voted to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as she spoke out against attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and noted his record on civil rights.

The rebuke of Warren sparked outcry from Democrats, who charged that McConnell was selectively enforcing the rule to protect Sessions and that silencing Warren was demeaning.

Warren was reading aloud a letter written by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., about Sessions. She wrote the letter in 1986 when he was being considered for a federal judgeship. King accused Sessions of promoting racist policies, and witnesses at his hearing accused him of making racist remarks, leading the Senate to deny him confirmation at the time.

In the letter, King wrote that Sessions “has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” Warren read that line on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to Warren’s speech, citing an obscure rule barring senators from “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,” per NBC News.

“The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama as warned by the chair,” McConnell said Tuesday night, after interrupting Warren’s speech.

McConnell interrupts Warren’s speech about Sessions.

McConnell would not let Warren continue after she protested his invocation of the rule, and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who was presiding over the Senate said, “The senator will take her seat.” The Senate voted along party lines, 49-43, to keep Warren from speaking again during the debate on Sessions’ nomination, shutting down her attempt to expose Sessions’ views on civil rights.

McConnell defended his decision after the incident.

“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The vote to silence Warren came after Daines issued a warning to Warren for quoting a statement from the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) calling Sessions a “disgrace” in the 1980s.

Daines warns Warren not to insult another senator.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected to Republicans’ ruling, and his spokesman, Matt House, said in a statement that McConnell “selectively” enforced a rule that Republican senators have “regularly flaunted” in the past.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) spoke out on Twitter and denounced McConnell’s effort to silence her colleague.

The Twitter hashtag #LetLizSpeak was soon trending as liberals slammed McConnell’s decision.

After she was told to sit down, Warren finished reading King’s letter aloud on Facebook Live. As of Wednesday morning, Warren’s video had amassed more than five million views.

Warren also briefly joined MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and said she was “red-carded.”

“I’m out of the game of the Senate floor. I don’t get to speak at all,” Warren said.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Livewire
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: