Democrats dig in over re­buke of War­ren

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - AN­DREW TAY­LOR

WASH­ING­TON — Demo­cratic sen­a­tors fight­ing to de­rail Jeff Ses­sions’ nom­i­na­tion as at­tor­ney gen­eral re­peat­edly chal­lenged Repub­li­cans Wed­nes­day by read­ing aloud from a crit­i­cal let­ter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, a day af­ter the Repub­li­cans si­lenced Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren for do­ing the same.

War­ren was or­dered to sit down Tues­day night, throw­ing the Se­nate into tur­moil as it headed for Wed­nes­day night’s vote on the Alabama sen­a­tor. She was si­lenced for read­ing the let­ter that Coretta Scott King wrote three decades ago crit­i­ciz­ing Ses­sions’ record on race.

Other Demo­cratic sen­a­tors read from the let­ter Tues­day night af­ter she was told to sit down, and more did so Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

War­ren, a Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat whose name has been prom­i­nent in spec­u­la­tion about the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race, was given a rare Se­nate re­buke for im­pugn­ing a fel­low sen­a­tor and she was barred from say­ing any­thing more on the Se­nate floor about Ses­sions.

The late-night dust-up quickly spawned the hash­tag #LetLizS­peak that was trend­ing on Twit­ter early Wed­nes­day.

The Se­nate has been work­ing around the clock since Mon­day as Democrats chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nees, although the party lacks the votes to de­rail the picks. Sen­a­tors read­ing from the let­ter Wed­nes­day in­cluded Tom Udall of New Mex­ico, Sher­rod Brown of Ohio and Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont.

San­ders said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, who or­dered War­ren to sit and be silent, should apol­o­gize to her.

With­out di­rectly ref­er­enc­ing the let­ter, McCon­nell said of Ses­sions: “It’s been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in re­cent weeks.”

On the other side, Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Wed­nes­day that McCon­nell’s ac­tion had been un­called for, and he saw a pos­si­ble link to Trump’s words and ac­tions.

“I sin­cerely hope this anti-free speech at­ti­tude is not trav­el­ling down Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue to our great cham­ber,” he said.

In the 1986 let­ter, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow said Ses­sions’ ac­tions as a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor were “rep­re­hen­si­ble” and he used his of­fice “in a shabby at­tempt to intimidate and frighten el­derly black vot­ers.” At the time, Ses­sions was be­ing con­sid­ered for a fed­eral judge­ship.

Democrats are por­tray­ing him as a threat to civil rights, vot­ing rights and im­mi­gra­tion. Repub­li­cans have de­fended Trump’s choice to be the top law en­force­ment of­fi­cer as a man of in­tegrity who will be an in­de­pen­dent voice in the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The in­ci­dent Tues­day night un­der­scored that the par­ti­san di­vide in the Se­nate has de­volved into nearly unchecked ran­cour, with ma­jor­ity Repub­li­cans muscling through Cab­i­net nom­i­nees in com­mit­tee by chang­ing the rules af­ter Democrats boy­cotted ses­sions hop­ing to make votes im­pos­si­ble. Democrats are un­der in­tense pres­sure from their lib­eral base to chal­lenge the en­tire Trump agenda, es­pe­cially his nom­i­nees.

War­ren pro­duced the three-decade-old let­ter in which Mrs. King wrote that Ses­sions, as an act­ing fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Alabama, used his power to “chill the free ex­er­cise of the vote by black cit­i­zens.”

“Mr. Ses­sions has used the awe­some power of his of­fice to chill the free ex­er­cise of the vote by black cit­i­zens in the dis­trict he now seeks to serve as a fed­eral judge,” Mrs. King wrote. Mrs. King died in 2006. Quot­ing King tech­ni­cally put War­ren in vi­o­la­tion of a Se­nate rule for “im­pugn­ing the mo­tives” of a fel­low sen­a­tor, though sen­a­tors have said far worse. The let­ter was writ­ten 10 years be­fore Ses­sions was elected.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren speaks on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

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