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Sen. Elizabeth Warren Silenced by GOP for Reading Coretta Scott King's Letter About Jeff Sessions

Web ExclusiveFebruary 08, 2017
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In a highly unusual move, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was silenced during a Senate debate Tuesday over the confirmation of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, after Warren read a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King, who was then opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a highly unusual move, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a Senate debate Tuesday over the confirmation of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, after Senator Warren read a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King, who was then opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Coretta Scott King also wrote to the Judiciary Committee about the Sessions nomination in 1986. And this is what she wrote:

“Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

“Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my strong opposition to the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a federal district judgeship for the Southern District of Alabama. My longstanding commitment which I shared with my husband, Martin, to protect and enhance the rights of black Americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process, compels me to testify today.

“Civil rights leaders, including my husband and Albert Turner, have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. 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. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Mr. Sessions’ conduct as a US Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicated that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge. ...

"It has been a long, up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws"—

SEN. STEVE DAINES: The senator is reminded that it is a violation of Rule 19 of the Standing Rules of the Senate to impute to another senator or senators any conduct or motive unworthy or becoming a senator.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. President, I don’t think I quite understand. I’m reading a letter from Coretta Scott King to the Judiciary Committee from 1986 that was admitted into the record. I’m simply reading what she wrote about what the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be a federal court judge meant and what it would mean in history for her.

SEN. STEVE DAINES: This is a reminder not pertinent necessarily to what you just shared; however, you stated that—that a sitting senator is a disgrace to the Department of Justice.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Uh, I think that may have been Senator—

SEN. STEVE DAINES: And this—

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Although I would be glad to repeat it in my own words.

SEN. STEVE DAINES: The rule applies.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Then, I’m—

SEN. STEVE DAINES: To imputing conduct or motive through any form or voice to a sitting senator. Form of words includes quotes, articles or other materials.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, quoting Senator Kennedy calling then nominee Sessions a "disgrace" is a violation of Senate rules? It was certainly not in 1986.

SEN. STEVE DAINES: In the opinion of the chair, it is.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So can I continue with Coretta Scott King’s letter?

SEN. STEVE DAINES: The senator may continue.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: "A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.

"The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods."

AMY GOODMAN: After reading the letter, Senator Warren continued speaking, but she was again interrupted—this time by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: Mr. President?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: They are—

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: Mr. President?

SEN. STEVE DAINES: The majority leader.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: 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. I call the senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. President?

SEN. STEVE DAINES: The senator from Massachusetts.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Warren is now prohibited from speaking for the remainder of the debate over Sessions’ confirmation, after the Senate passed a party-line rebuke against her.

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