Fed up with what they said were out-of-bounds Democratic attacks on President Trump’s attorney general nominee, Republicans struck back Tuesday night, voting to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren for inappropriate behavior on the floor of the Senate.
The 49-43 vote, which broke along party lines, meant Ms. Warren was not able to continue her floor speech attacking Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of her colleagues and Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the Justice Department.
It marked a new low in already frosty relations in Washington, where Democrats have mounted strenuous objections to Mr. Trump’s agenda. But going after Mr. Sessions, a longtime colleague who has worked with many of the Democrats in the chamber, was too much for the GOP.
Democrats were in the middle of a 30-hour debate, holding the floor to blast Mr. Sessions when Ms. Warren made the comment in question.
“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in demanding the vote to punish her.
He said Ms. Warren had violated the rules once, had been warned and given an explanation, and “nevertheless she persisted,” notching a second violation that forced him to act.
Democrats were furious, with Ms. Warren saying her offending comments were actually quoting the late wife of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. when she objected to Mr. Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship in the 1980s.
“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” she said.
In a letter at the time of Mr. Sessions’ earlier nomination, King had accused him of “a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge,” she wrote in a letter that has been revived now that Mr. Sessions is up for a vote to be attorney general.
Mr. Sessions crossed a key threshold earlier Tuesday when the GOP, joined by a single Democrat, voted to break an attempted Democratic filibuster.
Mr. Sessions is a sitting senator, and under the chamber’s rules, no senator may question the conduct of another.
As Republicans demanded senators come to the chamber to vote on the punishment, Ms. Warren remained defiant.
“Why don’t you just let me finish?” she said.