The U.S. Senate sent a clear, direct message to one of its most liberal members last night: Follow the rules or sit down.
On Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was speaking on the floor of the Senate when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to the content of her remarks.
“Warren’s rant epitomized the derangement and hypocrisy of the democratic opposition … The Democrats have escalated every policy dispute to the level of crisis.”
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McConnell said Warren had violated the rules of the Senate by besmirching the reputation a member of the Senate — in this case, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to be attorney general.
McConnell unleashed Rule 19 of the Senate guidelines, showing he intends to restore comity to the troubled legislative body.
The Senate, normally the august and sedate upper chamber of Congress, has recently shown cracks in its reputable stature.
Only the Senate confirms the president’s nominees for his Cabinet, dozens of lesser administrative posts, and judgeships. Seeing an opportunity to torment the new president and rally their base, Democrats have publicly mounted unprecedented obstruction to stall the nominees and Trump’s agenda.
Despite having only 48 seats in the 100-seat chamber, Senate rules allow a slowing down of the process by the minority. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has done just that.
On Tuesday, only hours after Vice President Mike Pence was forced to break a tie on Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, McConnell dug through the rules to counter Democratic strategy. He invoked Rule 19 as Warren spoke disparagingly of Sessions’ nomination.
Warren looked surprised. She should not have been.
Republicans have grown weary of the obstructionist tactics of the Senate Democrats. McConnell launched the Senate rulebook at Warren, and was able to convince the Senate that Warren had violated the rules on attacking the character of a fellow senator. The Senate upheld the rule by a vote of 49-43.
Warren had to sit and will not be allowed to speak again during the Sessions nomination debate, which could end Wednesday night.
Warren had read criticism in the past of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), provoking McConnell.
Warren rehashed 30-year-old criticisms leveled at Sessions when President Reagan nominated him to be a U.S. judge in Alabama. The Senate killed Sessions’ chances back then, but 10 years later Sessions was elected to the Senate itself.
When Warren came to criticism of Sessions made by the late Coretta Scott King, suggesting Sessions attacked the rights of black Alabamians to votes, McConnell objected formally. The rules do not even allow the quotation of others, if the words attack the character of the senator.
Warren and her allies objected. NBC News called the rule “arcane.” Hollywood liberals also went ballistic, suggesting democracy was at stake.
“I think it’s important to recognize that McConnell’s censorship of Warren tonight is part of a Republican process to curtail democracy,” tweeted Keith Olbermann, the former MSNBC host.
“The GOP suppressing free speech, silencing Warren tonight for reading Coretta Scott King’s criticism of Sessions,” said George Takei, the actor who played Sulu from “Star Trek.”
“We need to shut down D.C.,” said Takei, a longtime Democrat.
While the “silencing” of Warren seemed to rally the Democratic base at first, it also appears to have rallied the GOP side too. Republicans are growing increasingly tired of the Democratic sniping in the upper chamber.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the upper chamber was drifting toward incivility and chaos.
“Turn on the news and watch these parliaments around the world where people throw chairs at each other,” said Rubio. “I’m not arguing that we’re anywhere near that here, but we’re flirting with it.”
Other observers said Democrats were going too far.
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“Warren’s rant epitomized the derangement and hypocrisy of the democratic opposition,” said Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. “The Democrats have escalated every policy dispute to the level of crisis. After years of flaunting constitutional procedure … the Left finds its incomprehensible and infuriating to be in the minority.”
Warren, a liberal firebrand who may have ambitions to take on Trump in 2020, clearly crossed a line, said one former Senate staffer.
“The rules of the U.S. Senate are taken extremely seriously by U.S. senators,” said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, host of the “Mack on Politics” podcast and a former press secretary to two U.S. senators. “I worked there for four years. Sen. Warren can certainly criticize the policy record of any Cabinet nominee, or even any other senator, but no senator can impugn the integrity of a colleague. That violates Rule 19, which has been in place for 100 years.”
Republican pundits said it is all part of the anti-Trump frenzy the Democrats are in.
“The far Left is in full revolt,” said Mackowiak.
On Tuesday, McConnell made clear they have to revolt within Senate rules.