The Silencing of Senator Warren

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The press coverage of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s silencing under Senate Rule XIX was colorful, but sadly shallow. Much more daunting than a one-cycle news bite or a catchy hashtag, the incident in fact revealed that today’s narrow Republican Senate majority is poised to use procedure to subjugate the minority Democrats to an extreme.

In the news bite version of the story, the Warren silencing was simply a clash of personalities against a background of quaint Senate rules that date to times when the chamber functioned as a “club” of distinguished gentlemen who used aristocratic norms of address.

Warren was silenced after she read aloud from a letter by Coretta Scott King, who had harsh words about Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whom she called a racist in her 1986 letter. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brought out the rarely used Senate Rule XIX to silence Warren. In his words: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”