It’s a dark and dismal time for American liberals. Except for the part where the opposition keeps shooting itself in the foot.
We will now pause to contemplate the fact that this week the Senate Republicans attempted to forward their agenda by silencing Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow.
In explanation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell basically called Warren a pushy girl.
Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Never has a political party reached such a pinnacle of success, and then instantly begun using it to inspire the opposition.
We’re less than three weeks into the Trump administration, and almost every day the people in power stop delivering the message of the day and veer off into a Strange Tale.
Which do you think the Democrats found most empowering — Trump’s first full day in the White House, when he marched off to the C.I.A. to deliver a rambling tirade about the inauguration crowd size? The Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation that eliminated any reference to the Jews? Or the new Supreme Court nominee saying the president who named him was being “demoralizing” and “disheartening”?
Or this Senate-silencing moment? The subject at hand was the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The debate was going to be endless. It was evening and nobody was listening. Warren was taking her turn and reading a letter Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions in 1986.
That was when Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship on the basis of an impressive record of racial insensitivity as a U.S. attorney in Alabama. The charges included referring to a black assistant U.S. attorney as “boy,” joking about the Ku Klux Klan and referring to the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American.”
His supporters say he’s changed. Indeed, Sessions has evolved into a senator who is well liked by his peers and obsessed with illegal immigrants. Totally different person.
Mrs. King’s letter was not flattering. (“…has used the awesome power of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”) Neither were the quotes Warren read from the late Senator Edward Kennedy (“a disgrace”). But none of it was exactly a surprise, and all of Washington knew the nomination was eventually going to pass. Yet McConnell decided to shut down Warren, claiming she had “impugned the motives and conduct” of a fellow senator.
McConnell cited Rule 19, which is more than a century old. It comes up about once a generation, when somebody calls a colleague an idiot or a liar. But this was totally different. The other senators were startled — or would have been if most of them had not been napping or back in their offices, dialing up donors.
“She was warned,” McConnell said later.
“She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Wow, nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.
“They were waiting to Rule 19 someone and they specifically targeted Elizabeth,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I think because she’s effective.”
The social media exploded. You have to admit we live in wondrous times, people. There was a day when people only took to Facebook to post pictures of their vacation. On Wednesday they were pouring in to watch Elizabeth Warren read her forbidden letter.
Dark and extremely conspiratorial minds suggested the whole thing was a Republican plot to promote Warren as a presidential candidate, since they believe Trump could defeat her in 2020. This presumes that McConnell is suffering from a pathological case of advance planning.
More likely he’s simply exhausted from dealing with a White House occupant who’s managed, just this week, to accuse the media of not covering terrorism, to suggest that George W. Bush was more of a killer than Vladimir Putin, and to use the official presidential account to tweet an attack on Nordstrom’s for discontinuing his daughter’s fashion line.
And the Republicans in Congress can’t figure out how to work around him. The other day the House majority refused to approve a Democratic resolution affirming “that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetuation of the Holocaust.” It obviously was an attempt to remind people of that Holocaust Memorial Week debacle. But still.
“They’re definitely squirming,” said Representative Joe Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, in a phone interview. Crowley was on his way to Baltimore for a party strategy conference. I believe I speak for a great many Americans when I say a strategy would be a very good thing.
The Democrats are immersed in an ongoing battle between centrists and progressives and a long way from coming up with a united message. “There’s still anger and a bit of depression, but … they’re giving us incredible fodder to use against them,” Crowley said.
It’s true. Always look for a silver lining. Or at least a little fodder. Keep talking, Elizabeth.