{{show_title_date || "McConnell silences Warren on Sessions with obscure Senate rule, 2/7/17, 9:49 PM ET"}}

Warren silenced by Senate GOP during fight over Sessions

Senate Democrats hoped to generate some attention for their fight against Sen Jeff Sessions’ (R-Ala.) attorney general nomination with a straightforward spectacle: they’d hold the Senate floor all night, taking turns making their case against the far-right Alabaman.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/7/17, 9:57 PM ET

Maddow reads parts of Coretta Scott King's letter on Sessions

Rachel Maddow reads passages from the 1986 Coretta Scott King letter about Jeff Sessions that Mitch McConnell couldn’t bear to hear read aloud in the Senate.
Rachel Maddow reads passages from the 1986 Coretta Scott King letter about Jeff Sessions that Mitch McConnell couldn’t bear to hear read aloud in the Senate.
The spectacle ended up making headlines, but in an unexpected twist, it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who helped put the spotlight on the Democratic effort.
Senate Republicans voted to silence the Democrats’ Elizabeth Warren after she read from a letter by the widow of Martin Luther King that criticized the civil rights record of Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

The debate on the confirmation of Sen. Sessions came to a screeching but temporary halt Tuesday night when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, objected to a speech that the Massachusetts Democrat was giving.
By all appearances, Warren wasn’t trying to do anything especially provocative. The Massachusetts Democrat was quoting a letter Coretta Scott King sent to the Senate 30 years ago, speaking out against Sessions’ judicial nomination, which was ultimately defeated because of his record on civil rights. Had Warren been allowed to continue, it’s likely her remarks wouldn’t have been noticed by much of the public.

But McConnell intervened, taking the very unusual step of shutting down a senator’s remarks and silencing her. Following a 49-43 vote, which fell along partisan lines, Warren was admonished and told she could no longer participate for the remainder of the debate of the Sessions nomination.

Apparently, according to the GOP leader, reading the letter from Martin Luther King’s widow was, in effect, too mean. McConnell pointed to Rule XIX, which says senators cannot “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.”

In other words, Coretta Scott King’s concerns about Sessions’ record 30 years ago might hurt Sessions’ feelings, so, in the interest of maintaining decorum in the chamber, Republicans felt compelled to shut Warren down. Of all the things McConnell could’ve chosen to pounce on, he chose concerns about Sessions, race, and civil rights from MLK’s widow.

Of course, the Streisand Effect immediately kicked in, and by silencing the Democratic senator, Republicans inadvertently raised her profile and brought more attention to the remarks she intended to make.

Indeed, Warren ultimately read the King letter anyway, not from the Senate floor, but from a Senate hallway where it was streamed online – for an audience of nearly 50,000 people.

For more on this story, here’s the text of the letter itself and Rachel’s segment on its history. Here’s Warren discussing what transpired with Rachel on last night’s show, here’s Rachel reading from the letter that McConnell apparently doesn’t want people to hear, and here’s Rachel reflecting on the developments with MSNBC’s Ari Melber.