((AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File))

Did John McCain violate Rule 19, which was used to silence Elizabeth Warren?

Warren was silenced for accusing Sessions of racism, but McCain said Paul was a Russian stooge

Matthew Rozsa
March 17, 2017 2:45PM (UTC)

Last month, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, he did so on the grounds that she had violated Rule 19. This is a Senate rule that bars its members from saying anything that "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."

When Rule 19 was used to gag Warren, she was reading a letter written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King on how Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama — who was in the process of being confirmed as President Donald Trump's attorney general — had engaged in racial discrimination against black voters. Yet oddly enough, when Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona made a charge as serious (if not more so) against Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky earlier this week, Rule 19 wasn't invoked.


McCain's comments came after Paul voted to block a treaty that would have helped the Balkan nation of Montenegro join NATO, a move that would hinder Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's foreign policy ambitions but also gone against Paul's well-known quasi-isolationist ideals. After warning prior to the vote that "if there’s objection, you are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin . . . and I do not say that lightly," McCain and the rest of the Senate watched as Paul objected and quickly left the room.

"I note the Senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale for the action that he has just taken," McCain said. "That is really remarkable. That a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number — perhaps 98, at least, of his colleagues — would come to the floor, and object, and walk away. And walk away! The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no argument to be made. He has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO, that is under assault from the Russians."

McCain concluded, "So I repeat again: The Senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin."


It is difficult to see a logically consistent interpretation of Rule 19 that construes Warren's accusation of racism against Sessions as impugning a "conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator" but does not view McCain's claim that Paul is "now working for Vladimir Putin" in the exact same light.

We reached out to both McCain's and Paul's offices for comment. Indeed, we persisted. They did not reply.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Elizabeth Warren John Mccain Mitch Mcconnell Rand Paul Rule 19

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