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Silencing in the Senate Stirs Nation

Sheridan Ecker

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Senator Elizabeth Warren caused a stir in the nation following her formal silencing for “impugning” Senator Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing for the position of Attorney General.

The Republican Party, namely Senator Daines and Majority Leader Senator McConnell, addressed Warren during her speech against Sessions for referring to a Senator in a way that was unbecoming of his station—which is against Senate Rule 19 on Debate: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.” Senate Rule 19 was created in the early 1900s, according to Bustle in response to a violent fight on the floor; at the time, they decided to require a certain amount of “decorum” in the Senate to avoid future controversy, and thus, Rule 19 was born.  It is worth noting that the Senate is painfully concerned with how their Senators behave themselves in session;  a hefty number of rules outline how Senators should carry themselves within the chamber. Republicans point to this logic to defend their decision to invoke this rule against Warren.

However, Democrats are arguing otherwise. Despite being hyper aware of any injustice in the country since the election transpired, Democrats are upset that Rule 19 was used against Warren for reading a remark other Senators had read without issue—one included in a letter by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, about her concerns of Jeff Sessions’ racist attitude.  Even though the words were not her own, Republicans are still able to defend their call because the wording of Rule 19 specifically includes, “by any form of words.” This leads to obvious frustration from Democrats trying to roadblock Trump’s cabinet picks in any way they can; how is one able to oppose his nominee if they can be silenced for “impugning” his/her behavior? Granted, it only applies to Senators, but that further raises the question, “Should they still be considered a Senator during their hearing for a different position?”

It is also worth noting that back in 2015, Senator and then presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, was indirectly reprimanded for calling McConnell a liar; the Senate, Orrin Hatch of Utah reminded Cruz, is a place of civility. Cruz quickly defended himself, claiming, “Speaking the truth about actions is entirely consistent with civility.” He was not silenced—and despite the fact Warren defended her actions in the same manner, Cruz and other like-minded Republicans have not stood by their earlier belief.

Though the implications of the action frighten Democrats and many Americans, it’s the principle behind it which seems to be incensing them more than anything else: Many claim McConnell was being sexist and misogynistic in silencing Warren, as well as silencing racial concerns. Following the Women’s March and general anger over Trump’s comments against women, it’s no wonder that many are sensitive to further insult, and a white male using his power to refuse a woman her power to speak is a transgression that, to some, is a crime of the highest order. The offense was worsened due to the fact the “impugnment” came from a letter by an important and highly respected civil rights activist, and the fact that those concerns would once again be swept to the side was so intolerable to Democrats, many took to the floor reading this letter again and again so the people would be heard.

While Senator McConnell, Daines, and the Republican Senators in general were within their rights to silence Warren as they did, it’s questionable whether or not it served the intended effect. Warren has not been silenced, truly; this has projected her voice more than any Senate speech ever could, especially since she has already established herself as a staunch liberal willing to fight for what she believes. Now, she’s not just a rabble rouser: She’s a martyr. Whether or not that’s a good thing is another issue.

This incident is just another bullet point in the long list of grievances liberals have compiled during the new presidency, but one that could nonetheless have interesting consequences—not just for the Senate, but for civil rights and the nation as a whole.

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Silencing in the Senate Stirs Nation