On Tuesday night, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut off Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as she spoke against Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general, accusing her of breaking Senate rules.
“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” McConnell said, referring to Warren’s reading of past statements against Sessions by figures like Coretta Scott King. He then set up a series of roll-call votes on Warren’s conduct that resulted in a rebuke of Warren that was passed with a party-line 49-43 vote. The measure will keep Warren from speaking during the remainder of the debate on Sessions’ nomination.
McConnell’s move was extraordinary rare and wholly unnecessary in Republicans’ quest to get Sessions confirmed. Prior to Warren’s speech, Sessions’ confirmation was not in jeopardy — and it still isn’t following the Tuesday night episode. The only benefactor of the rebuke is Warren herself as the incident will provide more fuel to the already-blazing firebrand.
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“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said after the motion. She then retreated from the chamber to a nearby room where she read King’s speech in full on Facebook live. The stream garnered at least 5.2 million viewers.
Immediately, the hashtag #LetLizSpeak began trending on Twitter. The poetic phrase McConnell had used to admonish Warren —”She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”—was slapped on merchandise and picked up as a rallying cry for supporters who used the tagline to promote the accomplishments of other female pioneers like Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Malala Yousafzai.
Political commentators joked that McConnell had essentially made an in-kind donation to Warren’s potential 2020 presidential bid by silencing her Tuesday night. Even Matt Drudge, conservative commentator and editor of the Drudge Report, criticized Republicans for the move.
Warren’s name was tossed around as a Democratic contender in the 2016 presidential contest, and she was immediately thrown into the 2020 mix following President Donald Trump’s surprise win in November. The rebuke Tuesday night will help Warren win over liberals who have been frustrated by her committee vote in favor of Ben Carson’s nomination for secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The episode will also resonate with female voters—it was, perhaps, the ultimate example of ‘manterrupting’—and could help her with African American voters since Warren was cut off while reading a letter from a civil rights icon, during Black History Month, no less.
All told, the campaign ads for Warren’s re-election bid in 2018—and maybe the 2020 race—based on the gagging essentially write themselves. The senator’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on how the rebuke will factor into her reelection bid.
It will, no doubt, be a boon for Warren’s fundraising, which was already on a tear in late 2016 following Trump’s win. Her campaign took in $5.9 million from January 2015 through the end of 2016, including $1 million in the period from October 1 through the end of December. What effect her silencing in the Senate has on fundraising won’t be discernible until her campaign’s next quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Another public confrontation she had in May—this time with Trump—seemed to prompt at least a mild uptick in contributions to her coffers. On May 7, she and the then Republican-nominee sparred on Twitter with Trump calling Warren “goofy,” “Hillary Clinton’s flunky,” and “a fraud.” Warren responded, that Trump “spews insults and lies because he can’t have an honest conversation about his dangerous vision for America.” On May 7 and following two days, Warren raised $10,098 in itemized individual contributions, according to FEC filings—about $3,500 more than the previous three-day period and about $4,000 more than the same three-days period the year before.
Warren made other news on Tuesday, announcing a new book titled This Fight is Our Fight about her battle for progressive economics set for publication in April. The upcoming title is reminiscent of the book, Hard Choices, that Hillary Clinton released prior to her 2016 presidential bid.
Tuesday’s saga strengthens Warren’s progressive platform for a potential 2020 run; the question that will likely remain unanswered for months is whether that’s a position Warren wants to be in.