On Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) prohibited Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from speaking on the Senate floor for the rest of the debate over Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be attorney general.
The drama began when Warren quoted a 30-year-old letter by civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, referring to the Alabama Republican as a “disgrace” when Sessions was under consideration for a federal judgeship in 1986 but was never confirmed.
McConnell took particular issue with Warren as she quoted a letter written by King, who wrote that when acting as a federal prosecutor, Sessions used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
Warren’s reference drew the ire of McConnell, who said that Warren had “impugned the motives of our colleague from Alabama.”
The GOP then invoked the little-used Rule XIX, which says 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.”
The Republican presiding in the chair, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, agreed with McConnell, ruling her in violation of the order and forcing her to sit down.
“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren replied.
After a few parliamentary moves, McConnell called for a vote to affirm Daines’ ruling that Warren was out of order. The GOP-controlled Senate backed him up, 49-43, before defeating a Democratic effort to restore Warren’s speaking privileges, 50-43.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that McConnell’s action was “selective enforcement” of Rule XIX.
“It’s a sad day in America when the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow are not allowed on the floor of the United States Senate,” Donna Brazile, interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said after the vote to silence Warren. “Let Elizabeth Warren speak. The American people deserve to hear how Jeff Sessions is an extremist who will be a rubber stamp for this out-of-control Trump presidency.”
Others weighed in on Twitter with a #letlizspeak hashtag.
Watch a clip of the exchange below: