Just the other night, Marco Rubio gave a moving, and admittedly soapbox, speech on the Senate floor. Among the key points of his speech, he focused primarily on how he believes that “we (the senate and perhaps the country as a whole) are reaching a point in this republic where we are not able to solve the simplest issues because everyone is putting themselves in a corner where everyone hates everybody.” Furthermore, he stated that “what’s at stake here… is not simply “some rule,” but the ability of the most important nation on Earth to debate, in a productive and respectful way, the issues before it.” It is my hope that you, the reader, would be able to identify the reasoning behind why that notion resonates so well with my own line of thinking, and even the primary focus of this site. The irony, however, is that Rubio’s words, while moving, can and should be turned around and applied to the Republican Party itself.
The problem with this otherwise very good speech lies with the target which it was directed. Now, it is no secret that Senator Elizabeth Warren is, at this point, fairly well known for “stirring the pot.” However, what had preceded and provoked this speech is, in my own opinion, shameful.
No matter how you feel about Senator Elizabeth Warren, I would like to think that we would all agree that reading the writings of the widow of the great Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta King, should scantly, if ever, be reason for rebuke or admonishment on the Senate floor. And yet, here we are. Republicans used a scarcely referenced Senate rule to, by every means, silence Elizabeth Warren and force her to take her seat. Section 2 of Rule 19 pertaining to debate in the Senate states that “no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” In a forum in which the topic of debate is whether or not a particular individual, who happens to be a Senator at the time of debate, should or should not be confirmed as Attorney General, I do not see a way in which the latter can be argued without evoking this rule.
Elizabeth Warren’s offense was reading excerpts from a letter penned by Coretta Scott. In this letter, which was written to Chairman Strom Thurmond of the Committee on the Judiciary for the United States Senate in 1986, Coretta King describes, in detail, the reasons she opposed the confirmation of Jefferson Sessions to a position of federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. King did, in this letter, “impute” Sessions as having “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” She penned accusations of “politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions” and about his “indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws.” She wrote that “Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors, and colleagues of [her] husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.” All of this, she wrote, “indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgement to be a federal judge.”
The irony in all of this is that Marco Rubio’s words still ring true, but not in their intended rancor. The United States does seem to be moving toward a nation incapable of debate. This is shown apparent by Republicans silencing and forcing Warren to her seat. The words Warren used were not her own, but instead those of an iconic voice of civil rights. The issues raised in this letter, that did in fact thwart Sessions’ confirmation at that time, are equally worth hearing today as they were in 1986.
Beyond the conversation of racism, Republicans should now find themselves amid allegations of more widespread discrimination. It should be considered that after Warren was punished for reading excerpts of Coretta Scott’s letter, Bernie Sanders read the letter in its entirety, including the portions cited for Warren’s admonishment. Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Sen. Jeff Merkley all read the entirety or portions of the letter on the senate floor at different times throughout the week. Several men engaged in the same actions before and after Warren, and yet she was the only one singled out for rebuke. Whether the Republican’s behavior behind these allegations was intentional or not, Senate Republicans are flirting with a scenario that has little chance of reflecting well come time for mid-term elections. Elizabeth Warren is successfully maneuvering herself into a position of “figurehead” within the growing movement of Republican opposition. Do not be surprised if we see Senator Elizabeth Warren climb even higher into the ranks of Democratic leadership, all behind a mantra spoken by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself;
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”