Elizabeth Warren Silenced on the Senate Floor
February 22, 2017
Controversy floods newspapers and the World Wide Web, striking what seems to be constant disagreement between groups. Another matter gets added to the list of issues haunting the country everyday. Whether it is women’s rights, immigration, or the newly appointed Supreme Court members, it appears everyone has strong opinions occupying their minds. The United States Senate seems to be digging itself deeper into a hole with every passing day, while others argue that it seems to be doing just fine with all the new appointments being made. Sometimes, all it takes are a few words to tip the scale.
On February 8th, the Senate held a debate regarding the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren read a letter written by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., from 30 years ago. The letter was written about Sessions after he was considered for a federal judgeship, denouncing him because of his history with black civil rights. Senator Warren cited the letter, stating, “Mr. 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.” Many Republican Senators interrupted her, stating she violated a Senate rule that expresses Senators are not aloud to make personal attacks on other Senators. She was silenced and led off the Senate floor, after other Senate members agreed with the decision.
Many women and citizens alike came to her defense and pointed out that two of Warren’s male colleagues were able to read the exact same letter, uninterrupted by Senate members. The hashtag #LetLizSpeak trended on twitter for a period of time after the incident, rallying people together to come to Warren’s defense.
I will not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory & racist comments that have no place in our justice system.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) February 8, 2017
Leading her own revolt, the Massachusetts Senator continued to read the letter on Facebook live, outside of the Senate Chamber. She then tweeted out against the nomination saying, “I will not be silent about a nominee for AG [Attorney General] who has made derogatory and racist comments that have no place in our justice system.”
The opposing side of the issue made their statement clear as well. Senator Steve Daines explained his reasoning on silencing Warren. “The senator is reminded that it is a violation of Rule 19 of the standing rules of the Senate to impugn to another senator, or senators, any conduct or motive unworthy or becoming a senator.”
Many other Senators in the chamber agreed with the rule, and the suggestion to stop Warren from reading the letter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated on the Senate floor,“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
When asked about the silencing, Waukee American Government Teacher Melissa Harmeyer shared her opinion. “People are realizing that historically, and this is not a new thing, we have not listened to certain groups of people. […] It’s things like this that make that more apparent, and I think that more people are realizing that and they’re mad about that.” She proceeded by saying, “It [the silencing] brought attention to a rule […] that is rarely enforced. I think it made people question why it was enforced with her.”
Warren is no longer allowed to speak in the debates regarding Jeff Session’s nomination before the confirmation vote. She still sat silently in the Senate chamber, observing the many other speakers around her presenting their cases. Waukee History teacher Benjamin Twigg expressed his thoughts on the incident. “I see what [Warren’s] message was. She was trying to show her frustration with these appointments. I think it shows the divisiveness of wanting to remove her […] and using something politically, and something legal to remove her, too.” He continued, stating, “I think it just shows how politically divisive we are right now. We have our two party system that couldn’t be further apart.”
Warren has stated that she is up for reelection in 2018. The incident may have helped her in the long run, seeing as her approval rating went up from 25.5% in July of 2015, to 34.9% as of February of this year. With many more Supreme Court nominees expected to be approved and nominated in the coming months, more debates and disagreements are likely in the foreseeable future.