Sen. Elizabeth Warren, trying to stake her claim as the left’s darling for purposes of the 2020 presidential race, was delivering a rant against her colleague, Sen. Jeff Sessions. Warren asserted that “to put Senator Sessions in charge of the Department of Justice is an insult to African-Americans.”
To support this claim, roundly disputed by African-Americans who know Jeff Sessions, Warren resorted to quotes from 1986 when the Senate did not confirm the Alabama man as a federal district court judge.
She cited Coretta Scott King who claimed that Sessions had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” She also quoted Ted Kennedy who said that Sessions is “a disgrace to the Justice Department.”
After the Kennedy quote, Sen. Steve Daines, who was presiding, warned Warren that she was violating Senate rules against disparaging the character of a fellow member. After the King quote, Majority Leader McConnell called for a vote on whether Warren was violating Senate rules.
McConnell thought she was. He stated:
The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair. Senator Warren — quote — said Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.
Warren, who I suspect was delighted with this turn of events, responded:
I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.
The Senate backed its majority leader. By a party line vote of 49-43, it found Warren in violation of Senate rules. She is now barred from speaking on the subject of the Sessions nomination.
As Warren put it, she has been “red carded” by the Senate. Soccer-disparaging Republicans may be amused that she used this analogy.
The Senate rule McConnell invoked is Rule 19. It provides that senators are not allowed to “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.”
It seems to me that Warren did impute to Sessions conduct unbecoming a Senator. If he tried (per Mrs. King) to chill the rights of African-Americans ( he didn’t; he was acting on a complaint filed by local African-American officials), that was conduct unbecoming a Senator. So too if (per Kennedy) Sessions was a disgrace to the Justice Department.
It’s true that the alleged unbecoming conduct occurred before Sessions entered the Senate. Does that matter? Probably not.
What was gained, though, by “red carding” Elizabeth Warren? It must have felt wonderful — the woman is insufferable and demagogic. But now that Republicans have shut her up, she’s insufferable, demagogic, and a victim (as far as the left is concerned).
Rule 19 seems like an anachronism. Maybe it was useful once in curbing dueling or caning or something. Nowadays, it curbs robust speech for no compelling reason.