"Nevertheless, she persisted": Democrats rally behind Elizabeth Warren after GOP silencing

Support swells Mitch McConnell blocked Warren's reading of Coretta Scott King's letter against Jeff Sessions

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 8, 2017 6:23PM (EST)

 (YouTube/Elizabeth Warren)
(YouTube/Elizabeth Warren)

The morning after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked an obscure Senate rule to bar fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., from reading a 1986 letter written by civil rights icon Coretta Scott King against the federal judiciary nomination of Jeff Sessions on the floor, pundits are busy debating whether the Kentucky Republican pulled off a brilliant political play meant to marginalize a rising progressive star or if he inadvertently elevated her profile and King's scathing testimony against Sessions. While some pointed to Warren's deep unpopularity amongst the right-wing base as evidence that McConnell was strategic in his decision to silence her, Warren's Democratic colleagues took action to demonstrate that McConnell's move was, if nothing else, undoubtedly political, by continuing to read King's 10-page letter on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Neither Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, New Mexico's Tom Udall nor Oregon's Jeff Merkely were censured by Republican leadership when they took to the floor Wednesday morning to continue reading the words of King.

"The idea that a letter, a statement made by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., a letter that she wrote, could not be presented and spoken about here on the floor of the Senate, is to me incomprehensible," Sanders said before reading the letter. "I want the American people to make a decision whether or not we should be able to look at Senator Sessions' record and hear from one of the heroines of the Civil Rights Movement."

King's 1986 letter against Sessions' failed nomination was never entered into the congressional record by then-Judiciary Committee Chair Strom Thurmond. The Washington Post published the full, 10-page letter from King to the committee Tuesday evening.

“I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court,” Sen. Merkely read from Scott's letter after the GOP gagged Warren for the remaining 30 hours of debate on Sen. Sessions' nomination for U.S. Attorney General:

For her part, Warren took to Facebook to continue reading King's letter in a video that has already been viewed 4.5 million times.

The liberal group MoveOn announced Wednesday that its members have donated more than $250,000 to Warren's re-election campaign since McConnell silenced her. Social media users were quick to use McConnell's words against Warren as a rallying cry.

“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” he said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

He continued: “The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.”

Twitter trended #LetLizSpeak, “Silencing Elizabeth Warren," and “Sen. Warren.”

Despite the online backlash to McConnell's move, several Senate Republicans are boasting of their role in silencing Warren and King. Here's Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines:

"We have rules of decorum in the Senate, just like in the House of Representatives — Rule 19. It's been in effect for more than a hundred years," Arizona Republican Jeff Flake said on "Fox & Friends."

"So you don't impugn another member's character, and I think it's a good rule."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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