McConnell Used Century-Old 'Arcane Rule' to Silence Warren

Rule 19 was put into place in 1902 after two Democratic senators got into fistfight
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2017 9:24 AM CST
Behind Senate's Silencing of Warren: A Century-Old Fistfight
In this Jan. 17, 2017, file photo, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questions Betsy DeVos on Capitol Hill in Washington at DeVos' confirmation hearing.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The Senate GOP shut down Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday night as she attempted to quote from old letters penned by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and the late Coretta Scott King to protest the nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general, prompting the #LetLizSpeak and #SilencingElizabethWarren hashtags and leading Warren to tell MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that she'd been "red-carded." What allowed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put the kibosh on Warren's speech: Rule 19, an "arcane and seldom used provision" that disallows senators to "impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator," the Washington Post reports.

And sure enough, per McConnell, Warren's actions "impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama." The origins of Rule 19, however, point to something a tad more confrontational than letter-reading: a fistfight more than a century ago between Benjamin Tillman and John McLaurin, two Democratic senators who had started infighting after McLaurin made overtures to Republicans, enraging his mentor. The men finally came to blows on Feb. 22, 1902, after McLaurin accused Tillman of telling a "willful, malicious, and deliberate lie." About a week after the sparring men were separated, Rule 19 was added to debate decorum rules to prevent future words leading to physicality. Meanwhile, King's full letter can be found at the Washington Post. (More Elizabeth Warren stories.)

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