Senate Republicans voted Tuesday evening to formally silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), prompting widespread public outcry, for reading a letter by Coretta Scott King from 30 years ago that condemned Sen. Jeff Sessions's (R-Ala.) record on voting and civil rights. In response to the cascade of outrage, Democratic senators on Wednesday began taking to the Senate floor to read the letter that forced Warren from the floor.
President Donald Trump has nominated Sessions for attorney general, and a vote on Sessions is expected to take place Wednesday.
Sessions "used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens," the letter from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s widow reads, referring to Sessions's crackdown on ballot access—part of a supposed effort to combat alleged voter fraud—during his tenure as Alabama attorney general.
"The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after Warren began to read, and made the unusual decision to invoke Rule 19 to bar Warren from the floor. With votes along party lines, the motion to silence Warren was approved 49-43, and Warren was forced to stop speaking.
Watch Warren's silencing here:
And read King's letter, which Warren finished reading outside the Senate, in full here:
— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) February 8, 2017
The unprecedented silencing prompted immediate dismay, and people took to social media to voice support for Warren under the hashtags #LetLizSpeak and #ShePersisted, the latter a reference to McConnell's statement that Warren "was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) February 8, 2017
If Liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear - George Orwell #LetLizSpeak
— Megan (@MegBrittB) February 8, 2017
— Louise Doire (@LouiseDoire) February 8, 2017
— NARAL (@NARAL) February 8, 2017
— YellieKat (@YellieKat) February 8, 2017
People are also now calling on their senators to read King's letter on the floor. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) did so on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, and were met with no resistance from Senate Republicans. Observers accused the Republicans of misogyny for the clear double standard.
"It's a sad day for democracy, Mr. President, when the words of Coretta Scott King are not allowed on the floor of the United States Senate. I'd like to share with you those words today in their entirety," Brown said, before reading King's letter.
Warren is vowing to continue resisting Session's nomination for attorney general. "They can shut me up, but they can't change the truth," Warren told CNN.