Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mitch McConnell is not stupid; so WHY did he do such a politically stupid thing, silence Eliz. Warren?

By now, the story is well known, having hit the news shows Tuesday night like a thunder-clap.   On the Senate floor, Senator Elizabeth Warren was speaking against the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.   As part of her evidence against him, she was reading a letter to the Senate from Coretta Scott King, which King had sent during the 1986 confirmation hearings for then Alabama prosecutor Jeff Session to become a federal judge.

The confirmation was voted down, with considerable Republican support, because of Sessions' alleged racist attitudes and actions.    Coretta Scott King's letter was thought to have been an important part of persuading bipartisan voters against Sessions in 1986.  It was supposed to have been entered in the Congressional Record;  but it now appears that Sen. Strom Thurmond, who should have done so, did not.    But a copy of the letter has recently been obtained.  And Sen. Warren was reading it aloud to the senators.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called her out of order under Senate Rule XIX, which says that, in debate, no senator shall impute to another senator any conduct unworthy of a senator.   King's letter certainly does allege that Session had engaged in conduct unworthy of a senator.   But this is a confirmation hearing, not ordinary senate debate.   If the confirmation process cannot include comments about past behavior of a now-senator, simply because he is now a senator -- then the confirmation process is a farce.

Sen. Warren was not only silenced and told by the presiding senator to sit down, she was also forbidden to speak further during the hearing on Sen. Sessions.

To be clear, the letter had been allowed as part of the senate debate in 1986, and it would have been part of the official Congressional Record, if Sen. Thurmond had done his job.  However, Sessions was not a senator in 1986 and was therefore not covered by Rule XIX.  But he is now.

It's generally assumed that Sen. Sessions will be confirmed, given that it takes only a simple majority. [Note:  he was, later Wed. evening.]  If McConnell had just kept quiet, few would have noticed, or cared, that this letter was read.   It's unlikely to have changed any Republican senators' votes, since they're so determined to gain the power to do what they want.   So why did he stir things up by silencing Sen. Warren?

He could not have picked a better moment to blow up the smooth confirmation of a controversial nominee.   Sessions does have an undeniable record of racist attitudes, actions, including attempts to limit the voting rights of African-Americans.   In addition, he has consistently voted against the Violence Against Women bill.   Supporters claim that doesn't reflect the Jeff Sessions of today.

Now that the spotlight of McConnell's action is shining on this issue -- all the brighter because it was a letter from the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. that he stopped Warren from reading  -- it only multiplies immensely the public scrutiny of Sessions' racism.  The content of the letter is no secret.   In fact, later in the night, it was read, without objection, on the senate floor by Sen. Jeff Merkeley.   After giving her reasons, including detailed examples, Coretta King's 1986 letter, in part, reached this conclusion:
“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.”
Senator Warren further ensured wide attention to the whole incident by giving television interviews and by reading the letter on Facebook Livewhere reportedly 7 million people saw it.

So this has to take the prize for the most stupid political decision made by one of the most astute political strategists in the senate.   So, I come back to WHY?   I don't yet have a clue what McConnell hoped to gain.


PS:   Later "explanation" from a Republican congressman, whose name I didn't get but who was interviewed on MSNBC:    He said that Sen. McConnell was not on the Senate floor when Sen. Warren gave the first part of her dissent.   He objected to the tone she was using and came to the Senate chamber to invoke Rule XIX.  It just happened that, when he arrived, she was reading the King letter.   It was not the letter itself that he objected to but rather her overall denunciating tone about a fellow senator.

Now, if that is the case, why did they wait almost 24 hours to say so?   It sounds to me like a contrived explanation in an attempt to do damage control.

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