Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) — Geezus! You can almost hear the Confederate flags snapping in the breeze, can’t you? — was approved on a near party-line vote with only one Democratic defection, to become the next Attorney General of the United States after a contentious Senate vote. Jeff Sessions Confirmed as Attorney General, Capping Bitter Battle:
Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, an Alabama Republican, survived a near-party-line vote, 52 to 47, in the latest sign of the extreme partisanship at play as Mr. Trump strains to install his cabinet. No Republicans broke ranks in their support of a colleague who will become the nation’s top law enforcement official after two decades in the Senate. [Joe Manchin (D-WV) broke ranks with Democrats.]
But the confirmation process — ferocious even by the standards of moldering decorum that have defined the body’s recent years — laid bare the Senate’s deep divisions at the outset of the Trump presidency. At the same time, the treatment of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was forced to stop speaking late Tuesday after criticizing Sen. Sessions from the Senate floor, rekindled the gender-infused politics that animated the presidential election and the women’s march protesting Mr. Trump the day after his inauguration last month.
Sen. Sessions cast his final vote as a senator to note that he was present for Wednesday’s tally. His confirmation was met by applause from his colleagues, including a few Democrats, on the Senate floor.
Democrats spent the hours before the vote on Wednesday seething over the rebuke of Sen. Warren, of Massachusetts, who had been barred from speaking on the floor the previous night. Late Tuesday, Republicans voted to formally silence Sen. Warren after she read from a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King that criticized Sen. Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” while serving as a United States attorney in Alabama.
That’s right, the Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, during Black History Month no less, told the little lady from Massachusetts to sit down and mind her place because his genteel Southern sensibilities were offended by her reading from a letter of the widow of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, a letter that is part of the congressional record* from Sessions’ failed nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986 on the basis of his impressive record of racial insensitivity as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, because it “impugned” the character of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.
[* Correction: The letter was never entered into the record by then–Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-SC), an infamous Segregationist who was the presidential nominee of the States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) in 1948. See the Rev. Dr. William Barber at The Nation, The Silencing of Coretta Scott King Is An Act of Systematic Racism.]
“Oh lawdy, someone bring me my smelling salts! That ‘nasty woman’ gives me the vapors! I do declare that I am about to faint!” Someone get that man his fainting couch!
The Turtle Man’s actual words will come back to haunt him: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” “Nevertheless, she persisted” instantly became a meme and went viral. Shutting Down Speech by Elizabeth Warren, G.O.P. Amplifies Her Message:
Silenced on the Senate floor for condemning a peer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, emerged on Wednesday in a coveted role: the avatar of liberal resistance in the age of President Trump.
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For Ms. Warren’s supporters, it was the latest and most visceral example of a woman muzzled by men who seemed unwilling to listen.
Mr. McConnell’s coda has already been repurposed as a sort of rallying cry. Across social media, Ms. Warren’s allies and supporters posted with the hashtag #shepersisted, ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’: How Senate’s Silencing of Warren Became a Meme, calling to mind some Democrats’ embrace of the term “nasty woman” after Mr. Trump deployed it to describe Hillary Clinton during a debate.
After the vote to bar Ms. Warren from speaking further about Mr. Sessions, [four senators, Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) later read King’s letter from the Senate floor themselves, and were not stopped by Republicans], prompting some activists to raise charges of sexism.
As Gail Collins of the New York Times explains the sexism, “Wow, nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.” Elizabeth Warren Persists.
Ms. Warren has long displayed an instinct for capitalizing on highly visible fights. After she was barred from speaking on the Senate floor, she began reading the 1986 letter from Mrs. King on Facebook. By Wednesday evening, the video had attracted more than nine million views.
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On Wednesday morning, in a conference room in the Capitol — the vote prohibited Ms. Warren from speaking about the nomination only from the Senate floor — Ms. Warren addressed civil rights leaders, recounting her long night.
“What hit me the hardest was, it is about silence,” she said. “It’s about trying to shut people up. It’s about saying, ‘No, no, no, just go ahead and vote.’”
She went on.
“This is going to be hard,” she said. “We don’t have the tools. There’s going to be a lot that we will lose. But I guarantee, the one thing we will not lose, we will not lose our voices.”
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post writes, ‘This is not over’: Muzzled Elizabeth Warren calls on Democrats to stay in the fight:
[O]nce the gag is removed from her, the first thing she will say is that the battle over Sessions is anything but over.
“When he is attorney general, we must hold him accountable,” Warren told me Wednesday, when I asked her what she would say on the Senate floor once she is permitted to speak again. “That will be the first thing I want to say.”
In our interview, Warren stressed that she wants this moment to be seen as only one of many recent ones that, taken together, should inspire and energize voters who are feeling particularly dispirited right now.
Warren noted that one positive outcome that has emerged from this episode is that a lot of people have now read King’s letter in its entirety. The quote from King’s letter that is getting all the attention is the one that McConnell singled out, which says that as U.S. attorney for Alabama, Sessions used “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” But the full letter, which was written in 1986, ties that episode to a much broader, decades long struggle by African Americans to secure the franchise, and to the fierce resistance it has encountered (and, in some ways, continues to encounter in the form of voter suppression tactics).
“I want everyone to read that letter,” Warren said. “The letter is about the civil rights movement in the 1960s; what was still going on in the 1980s; and what is still going on today.”
Warren argued that even if Sessions is confirmed, this episode should only spur Americans to take more seriously the need to remain politically engaged, in order to prepare for the possibility that under Attorney General Sessions, the Justice Department may regress when it comes to enforcing voting and civil rights.
“If Sessions makes it through, this is not over,” Warren said. “The U.S. Senate has the constitutional responsibility to oversee the Department of Justice. That means we have to be out there on the front lines, every single day, watching what he does.”
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Warren argued that over the long term, voters should remain engaged in an effort to, among other things, hold Sessions accountable for his tenure at the Justice Department. There is a great deal that the Sessions Justice Department could do to roll back civil rights gains. Trump’s persistent, continuing lies about voter fraud have led voting rights advocates to fear that a major wave of voter suppression could be in the works on the national level. The Justice Department could be key to that, by refusing to enforce key remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act, or by launching crackdowns on voter fraud that lead to the purging of voter rolls, harming untold numbers of real voters.
What’s more, as Samuel Bagenstos has explained in detail, it will also be important to watch whether the Sessions Justice Department does things like gut the department’s Civil Rights Division or scale back the department’s focus on police misconduct, housing discrimination and hate crimes.
Warren said Americans should remain engaged by just how transformative the Trump era threatens to be — and that persistent focus and attention were the keys. She said that the outpouring of response to recent events — the recent Women’s March on Washington and the backlash to Trump’s immigration ban come to mind — suggested this was really possible.
“People all over this country need to see how Donald Trump is trying to transform America into a meaner, more hateful place,” Warren said. “Democracy is not a machine that runs itself. It requires people.”
Democracy is not a spectator sport. Get off your butt and get involved.