Leave it to the Republicans to diss the memory of Coretta Scott King in the midst of Black History Month.
But hey, why wouldn’t they? They’re focused on servicing the overwhelmingly white slice of the electorate that put them in power, so naturally they’re trying to ensure that a white Alabaman accused of making racist remarks is confirmed as attorney general. And that’s what motivated Senate leader Mitch McConnell to muzzle Elizabeth Warren last night, when the Democrat tried to read the widow King’s eloquent words of warning.
Yeah, McConnell’s rush to protect Jeff Sessions — by invoking a parliamentary rule that bars senators from trash-talking each other on the Senate floor — was repugnant. But he knew he could get away with it. Republicans don’t have to face the voters until November ’18, most of the Senate races are in red states, and while Democratic-leaning voters are fuming now, they never show up for the midterms in sufficient numbers.
But still. This episode reminds us how far and fast we have fallen, that a guy who was rejected in 1986 for a federal judgeship — because, among other things, he’d called the NAACP “un-American” — is now on the cusp of becoming our law enforcement chief. And this episode was a master class in the hypocritical use of Senate rules.
When Warren tried to read King’s letter, written in 1986, McConnell quickly invoked Rule 19, which says: “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 to a Senator.” Or, as McConnell declared, “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.”
How convenient. Because last night, Rule 19 was actually a Catch-22.
Warren was trying to explain why Sessions shouldn’t get the attorney general job, but to make her best case, she obviously had to allege that he had engaged in “conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming.” But McConnell barred her from doing it, because right now Sessions happens to be a fellow senator.
Of course, McConnell wasn’t required to invoke the rule. He didn’t invoke it in July ’15 when Republican Ted Cruz openly accused him of being a liar. He didn’t invoke it in May ’16 when Republican Tom Cotton openly ridiculed Democratic colleague Harry Reid for his “sad, sorry legacy.” He didn’t invoke it a week ago when Republican David Perdue openly mocked Chuck Schumer as a girly man after Schumer cried while talking about Trump’s travel ban (Perdue: “The minority leader’s tear-jerking performance over the past weekend belongs at the Screen Actors Guild awards”).
McConnell didn’t invoke it because those were his teammates. He invoked it last night only to protect Sessions from Sessions’ controversial past. By doing so, however, he stoked a lot more public curiousity about what Coretta Scott King actually said in ’86. At the time, Sessions was a U.S. attorney who had prosecuted three black activists for alleged voter fraud (they were quickly acquitted); by contrast, he had declined to investigate similar allegations in white communities.
Here’s one passage in the King letter that Warren was barred from reading:
Blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process. Particularly in the South, efforts continue to be made to deny blacks access to the polls, even where blacks constitute the majority of the voters. It has been a long uphill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by black people, should not be elevated to the federal bench.
The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods…Free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to American democracy that we cannot tolerate any infringement of those rights.
If King was still alive (she died in 2006), she’d have a serious case of deja vu. The uphill battles she referenced in 1986 continue today. Republican voter suppression efforts, aimed at minorities, are metastasizing nationwide. How fitting it was that McConnell censored King’s prescience — to protect a white conservative who will soon be tasked by Trump to turn back the clock.
So. Two questions for all the Hillary-leaners who stayed home on Nov. 8 or wasted their votes on third-party losers:
Happy now? Do you need more evidence that elections have consequences?
Speaking of hypocrisy:
Imagine the Republican reaction if Barack Obama, within a span of 11 days, had OK’d an ill-planned anti-terror raid that (1) allowed the al Qaeda guy to escape and taunt him on social media, and (2) prompted Yemen to pull the plug on future U.S. ground raids…with Obama subsequently insisting that America was nothing special and no better than thuggish Russia.
You know darn well that Republican heads would be detonating 24/7. Heck, they’d even be insisting that Obama’s un-American weakness was worse than Bill Clinton’s impeachable canoodling.
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