Bernie Sanders called Senate Republicans' vote to silence Elizabeth Warren "an outrage"

By Tierney McAfee
Updated February 08, 2017 01:35 PM
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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to recite the Coretta Scott King letter his colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren was banned from reading.

Calling it “an outrage” that Republican senators voted to silence Warren Tuesday night after she quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow in a speech opposing attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, Sanders said, “We need to hear all points of view. The idea that … a letter that [King] wrote could not be presented and spoken about here on the Senate floor is to me incomprehensible.”

Sanders then read aloud on the Senate floor the letter King wrote in 1986 during Sessions’ failed confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship.

In the letter, King explained her opposition of Sessions, writing: “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”

Sanders also tweeted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who said Warren broke Senate rules by reading the letter — should apologize to the Massachusetts senator.

McConnell stood by his accusation that Warren had violated Rule 19, a rarely evoked chamber regulation that prohibits senators from insulting each other on the Senate floor.“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” McConnell said, in a statement that was quickly co-opted as a rallying cry for Warren’s supporters.But Senate Republicans notably didn’t object when Sanders and three other male senators — New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley — later read portions of the same letter on the Senate floor.Merkley himself questioned why he and the other male senators were permitted to read from the letter while their female colleague was silenced. https://twitter.com/SenJeffMerkley/status/829372064201134082Asked for additional comment on Wednesday, McConnell spokesperson David Popp told CNN that the rule invoked to halt Warren cannot be done retroactively.

“To my knowledge, the other Dem speeches were not preceded by a prolonged disparagement of a colleague followed by warnings from the chair alerting the Senate to the ongoing disparagement so that an objection could be raised,” Popp said in a statement. “Last night, Sen. Warren had been warned by the chair and continued to violate the rule anyway. I have not seen the others, but I understand that wasn’t the case with their remarks.”

Meanwhile, with Warren now barred from speaking on the floor for the remainder of the debate on Sessions’ nomination, thousands of people rallied around the Massachusetts senator on Twitter under the hashtag #LetLizSpeak.

Warren did just that during a Wednesday interview with The View, where she explained that she did not believe she was “violating the rule of the Senate” by reading King’s letter.

“Coretta Scott King’s words are deeply moving,” she said. “They are powerful, and they describe a moment in history in which Jeff Sessions was an active participant. Republicans don’t want to hear it. They want to find a way to shut it down.”

She added of Sessions’ potential confirmation, expected Wednesday night: “We may not be able to stop it, but I’ll tell you this: That does not mean we give up.”