Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) thought he was giving a valid reason for the Senate’s decision to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Tuesday night. In reality, he inspired a feminist rallying cry for Democrats opposed to President Donald Trump and his attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
“She was warned. She was given an explanation,” McConnell said. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
It’s that last part that quickly caught fire on social media, almost immediately trending as #ShePersisted as soon as the words were public.
Here’s the background: Earlier on Tuesday, Warren tried to read a letter by Coretta Scott King, a civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr., written in opposition to Sessions’s 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship. (Sessions has a history of opposing civil and voting rights legislation, making him a major threat to civil rights advocates — not just back in 1986 when he was nominated for a judgeship, but today as he’s nominated to head the Justice Department, which enforces civil rights laws.)Section 2 of Rule XIX of the Senate says:
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.At The Washington Post, Derek Hawkins explains that the rule originated in a 1902 floor fistfight between two senators from South Carolina.
When the fight ended, the Senate voted to censure the two men. A panel found that their behavior was “an infringement of the privileges of the Senate, a violation of its rules and derogatory to its high character, tending to bring the body itself into public contempt.”
The episode prompted the senate to tighten its rules governing decorum in floor debate. Rule 19 (sections 2 and 3, to be precise) was adopted later that year.
In the time since, the rule has rarely come up. One instance flagged by Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux occurred in 1979, when Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.) called Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) “an idiot” and “devious” in a debate on the Senate floor. Heinz reportedly stormed to the front of the room with a rule book and showed him Rule 19. Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) defused the situation and asked them to shake hands.
Other examples are hard to come by.en the fight ended, the Senate voted to censure the two men. A panel found that their behavior was “an infringement of the privileges of the Senate, a violation of its rules and derogatory to its high character, tending to bring the body itself into public contempt.”On November 17, 2005, Emily Pierce reported at Roll Call:
The partisan spat over the veracity of testimony by oil company executives last week spilled over into personal barbs on the Senate floor Wednesday, with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) accusing Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) of impugning his character on the chamber floor.
"It's been brought to my attention that the Senator from Illinois has unfairly maligned my character," Stevens declared on the floor almost three hours after Durbin accused Stevens of making it easier for oil executives to lie to Congress about whether their companies were involved in closed-door energy policy meetings with Vice President Cheney in 2001.
Stevens said Durbin's comment violated the Senate's Rule 19, which states, "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" during floor debate. A ruling that a Senator has violated Rule 19 causes the offending Senator to lose his or her right to the floor until the full Senate permits him or her to speak again.
Because Stevens was not on the floor at the time of Durbin's speech, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that Stevens could not raise the issue of whether Durbin ran afoul of Rule 19, according to Stevens and the Senate parliamentarian's office.