Democrats, in fear that the Trump administration will set back their political efforts, have continued to fight against decisions the President has made. On Feb. 8, Sen. Elizabeth Warren stood on the Senate floor and read a letter from the late Coretta Scott King to Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1986. Thirty years ago, the letter was written to halt the nomination of Jeff Sessions as a federal judge in Alabama, stating that Sessions’ appointment would be detrimental to civil rights. Warren read the letter to state her position on the nomination of Sessions again, this time for attorney general, a position that gives Sessions the authority over all governmental legal procedures and law enforcement as the head of the Justice Department. Sessions could theoretically aid in bringing Trump’s threats on Chicago to fruition. Objections were quickly raised and Warren was asked to sit on the grounds that she had violated Rule XIX of the Senate, which bars senators from insulting one another.
Rule XIX has eight main mandates to solve conflicts that may arise during Senate sessions. It was created in 1902 when two senators began name-calling which turned to fistfighting over a bill on annexing the Philippines. Both men were formally censured and as a result Rule XIX was written.
The rule has rarely been used in Senate as it is subjective on when it should be invoked. Comments senators make against one another are usually informally reprimanded and senators often strike their insults from the records. The last official use of Rule XIX was in 1979 when Sen. John Heinz invoked it against Sen. Lowell Weicker for calling Heinz an “idiot” and “devious.”
The Start of a Movement
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell managed to halt Warren’s reading of the letter on the Senate floor, but sparked a trending movement with those on social media who backed Warren’s efforts. McConnell commented on his objection to Warren’s actions, stating, “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Those last two words, “she persisted,” have created a national reaction and a trending hashtag on Twitter, and fueled even more so when her male counterparts were not interrupted when they continued to read the letter.
Outside of the Senate floor, Warren found an audience willing to listen, and read King’s entire nine page statement on Facebook Live. The impact of McConnell’s objections created more response, more than two million views, than if Warren had been allowed to read the letter and continued to voice her opposition on the mostly ignored C-Span. The silencing did not just show how the Republican-run Senate reacts to opposition, but also how the male-dominated governing body attempts to stop one of the 20 women in the 100 person legislature from expressing her disdain at a possible nomination.
Jeff Sessions was still appointed to U.S. attorney general the day after Warren’s actions, but the nation could pay more attention to Trump’s cabinet picks after Senator Warren created a conversation over President Donald Trump’s appointments. Warren’s actions, as well as the supporting Democrats who subsequently followed her lead, could show what the next four years will be like for politicians who oppose the Trump administration and its policies.
What Sessions will do now that he is Attorney General is up in the air, especially as he is currently tied in with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation and subsequent investigation for ties with Russia. If any of his history gives an indication of future work, Sessions will be against more progressive movements such as LGBT rights, women’s issues and immigration reform, in addition to civil rights. The backlash to Sessions’ nomination could just be the start of Democratic opposition to the Attorney General’s authority.