Democratic senators read Coretta Scott King’s letter from the Senate floor on Wednesday morning after Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was stopped in the middle of doing so on Tuesday night.
As Warren was reading, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked Senate Rule 19, which forbids senators from suggesting another senator is guilty of “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Warren was speaking out against the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican, as attorney general. Senators voted along party lines to silence her.
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. All plan to vote against Sessions confirmation on Wednesday evening.
King’s letter was written in 1986 in opposition to Sessions’ appointment as a federal judge in Alabama. In the letter, King criticised Sessions’ record on voting rights, saying the Voting Rights Act “was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States.”
“The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” King continued.
The Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage that King’s letter could not be read.
“The idea that a letter, a statement made by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., a letter that she wrote, could not be presented and spoken about here on the floor of the Senate, is to me incomprehensible,” Sanders said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “I want the American people to make a decision whether or not we should be able to look at Senator Sessions’ record and hear from one of the heroines of the Civil Rights Movement.”
“I entered Coretta Scott King’s letter about #Sessions into the Senate record and read it from the floor — her words should not be silenced,” Udall tweeted on Wednesday morning.
A spokesman for Mitch McConnell clarified to The Huffington Post on Wednesday that none of the other Senators had preceded reading King’s letter with a speech disparaging Sessions.
Watch a portion of Sander’s speech here:
Watch Udall’s full speech here:
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