In his classic 1934 novel Tender Is the Night – a tale of ex-patriots living abroad – F.S. Scott Fitzgerald included a secondary character Elizabeth “Baby” Warren, the sister-in law of the novel’s protagonist. Baby Warren was depicted as someone who believed that her wealth and place in society exempted her from following the rules to which ordinary individuals were subject.
On February 7, the Senate floor witnessed the emergence of yet another “Baby Warren” in the persona of Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who staged a diatribe to derail the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States by reading a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow Coretta Scott King in 1986 to the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose Sessions’s nomination for a federal judgeship.
“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” Mrs. King wrote of Sessions’ s tenure as the U.S. Attorney for Alabama. Senator Warren buttressed her reading of Coretta Scott King’s letter by reading the statement which the late Senator Edward Kennedy made in 1986 regarding Sessions. “He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position,” the Massachusetts Democrat remarked.
Freshman Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont) attempted to stop Warren’s Senate floor monologue with a verbal warning which she chose to ignore. Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rebuke to Warren: “The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” which he followed with a roll-call vote on her behavior. The Senate voted 49-43 to uphold the ruling that Senator Warren had violated Rule 19 of the Senate which 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.”
Consequently, Senator Warren was ordered to take her seat. However, instead of just accepting that she was literally called on the carpet for being out of line, Senator Warren took to Facebook for a live session to continue her opposition to Sessions. “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said. She also sent out a tweet: “I will not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory & racist comments that have no place in our justice system.”
As a U.S. Senator, Elizabeth Warren has agreed to follow the rules of her office including those associated with appropriate conduct towards and communication with other senators. Not surprisingly, other Democratic senators supported Warren’s tactics. Senators Kamala Harris (D-California) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) tried to have the Coretta Scott King letter introduced into the record, but their actions were stopped by the GOP senators. The liberal media also supported Warren’s conduct by describing Rule 19 as “arcane.”
Senator Warren needs to pick her battles. She can exercise her opinion of Senator Sessions’s fitness to serve as Attorney General through her vote. Breaking senate rules and grandstanding are not the ways to express dissent. Ultimately, the American people from both political parties will grow tired of these antics. And they will show their displeasure with votes.
Warren’s popularity in her home state of Massachusetts is waning. According to the WBUR Poll released on January 23, only 44% of Massachusetts residents surveyed support her candidacy for re-election.
Warren has also been frequently mentioned as a 202o presidential candidate. Soundbites like a rebuke on the Senate floor won’t be helpful.
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