Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was stopped from speaking on the Senate floor about Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions on Feb. 7. “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said. (Reuters)
With Breanne Deppisch
THE BIG IDEA: Mitch McConnell defended his decision to have the Senate formally vote to block Elizabeth Warren from speaking about the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. “She was warned,” he said. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
The majority leader said the firebrand from Massachusetts broke the chamber’s rules by reading past statements about Sessions from Coretta Scott King and Ted Kennedy. “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” McConnell said, setting up a series of exceptionally rare roll-call votes to silence Warren until Sessions is confirmed.
— In these angry times, the activist base of the Democratic Party wants its politicians to be fighters. When Republicans were in the wilderness, the party’s base valued hostility toward Barack Obama more than ideological purity. That’s how Donald Trump became the GOP’s standard bearer. The same principle will now apply for exiled Democrats. For the purposes of winning the 2020 nomination, it will be impossible to be too anti-Trump.
— McConnell gagging Warren is one of the best gifts she could have received, and her birthday is not even until June. It solidifies her bona fides as a fighter for progressive causes. Just hours before the showdown on the floor, which Warren had not planned for, the former Harvard Law professor announced that she will come out with a book this spring called “This Fight is Our Fight.”
— The brouhaha will be especially resonant because it touches race and gender, two of the most volatile fault lines in American life. During Black History Month, McConnell specifically cited portions of a letter that the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to Sessions’s 1986 nomination to be a federal judge as a justification for the votes to rebuke Warren. “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” King wrote three decades ago, referencing prosecutions he oversaw as the U.S. attorney for Alabama.
As Barack Obama’s former top strategist, David Axelrod, puts it:
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) February 8, 2017
— Sanctioning Warren also gives her underlying message a much bigger platform: She was speaking to a nearly empty chamber against a nominee who, no matter what, is going to get confirmed later today. Very few people paid attention to similar floor speeches against Betsy DeVos the night before. Now millions of people will read the letter that King wrote.
Rachel Maddow interrupted her MSNBC show for a live telephone interview with Warren. “I’ve been red-carded on Sen. Sessions,” she lamented. The senator then went into another room in the Capitol and read King’s letter aloud on Facebook Live. By morning, it had more than 5.2 million views:
— This really could help Warren make inroads with African Americans: There are relatively few black voters in Massachusetts, but members of the community will determine who wins the South Carolina primary in three years (it’s coming up faster than you think). Bernie Sanders just might have stopped Hillary Clinton if he had figured out a way to break through her firewall with African American voters. So there is no doubt that Warren World celebrated as groups like the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus quickly rallied behind her.
— The top trending hashtags on Twitter overnight are all about the donnybrook: #LetLizSpeak and #ShePersisted. An online clothing site for independent designers, RedBubble.com, is even selling “She Persisted” T-shirts and sweatshirts. Thousands of people are posting pictures of strong women throughout history with the caption #ShePersisted:
— rosanne cash (@rosannecash) February 8, 2017
Know who else was warned & given an explanation, yet persisted? Rosa Parks. Susan B Anthony. Harriet Tubman. Malala Yousafzai. #shepersisted
— Emily Clasper (@eclasper) February 8, 2017
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted ” is basically the story of all female progress through history
— Camila Londono (@drClondono) February 8, 2017
— T. Fisher King (@T_FisherKing) February 8, 2017
— Wendy Willis (@zaythar) February 8, 2017
— Marionstein (@Marionstein) February 8, 2017
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. pic.twitter.com/ebXJRX23Re
— Marc (@MarcSnetiker) February 8, 2017
— McConnell has a well-earned reputation as one of the savviest political operators of the post-war era, so it’s hard to imagine he didn’t know how his move would play. To channel Marco Rubio, we should dispense with the fiction that McConnell doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. So you cannot just dismiss it as a fit of pique. Perhaps he is strategically trying to elevate Warren. Maybe he thinks that life will be harder for the 10 Democrats up for reelection next year in states Trump carried if Warren, not Chuck Schumer, is the face of their caucus. She has been getting less buzz recently, compared to some of the younger whippersnappers who also want to run. Maybe, seeing this, McConnell concluded that Warren is ultimately the most beatable potential Democratic nominee in a head-to-head with Trump in 2020. He plays the long game that way. Just ask Merrick Garland.
— The big-picture context matters here. It’s no secret that the Senate is in the grips of an interminable partisan fever, a long-term illness that has enfeebled what was once the world’s greatest deliberative body. The boycotts of confirmation votes in committee last week and the blow-up last night are simply symptoms of a chamber reaching its boiling point. Chuck Schumer voted against McConnell’s wife to be Transportation secretary last week. George Mitchell voting against Elizabeth Dole to be secretary of labor when Bob Dole was majority leader in 1989 would have been unimaginable. But the Senate, it is a changin’.
Furthermore, McConnell must show the 51 Republicans he leads that he can be a fighter. Many of his rank-and-file members are incensed at Democrats for slow-walking the confirmations, which has stopped them from being able to move onto big-ticket agenda items, such as replacing Obamacare. Because senators are people too, they get irritable and angry when they have to come into work early and stay late for multiple nights in a row. McConnell was channeling this anger.
— The galvanizing effect of McConnell’s decision for Senate Democrats may be greater than whatever cathartic value their Republican counterparts take from it. With the exception of the most vulnerable red-state incumbents, last night is going to make it that much harder for Democrats to vote for anything Trump or McConnell wants. Here’s a taste of what Schumer’s rank-and-file are saying:
Cruz called a Senator “a liar,” and Cotton called a Senator “a cancer,” no violation. But quote Coretta Scott King? GOP shut It down.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) February 8, 2017
— Senator Cortez Masto (@SenCortezMasto) February 8, 2017
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 8, 2017
Just before 6 a.m., Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) went on the floor to decry what transpired overnight:
Just finished speaking on Sessions. “Democrats are not going to be bullied into silence. Not by the President. Not by the Majority Leader.”
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 8, 2017
That’s the key point. Rules against criticizing other Senators cannot apply when you are DEBATING THE NOMINATION OF A SENATOR! https://t.co/mLQqP7z14d
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 8, 2017
On Friday morning, I’ll interview Murphy at The Post’s headquarters for the next installment of “The 202 Live.” We’ll talk for an hour about the path forward for Democrats in the Trump era and what role the resistance movement will play. Register to attend here.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— Three U.S. appellate judges on the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in the case over Trump’s immigration order last night, lobbing critical inquiries at both challengers and defendants of the travel ban. Matt Zapotosky and Robert Barnes report: “The broad legal issue is whether Trump acted within his authority … or whether his order essentially amounts to a discriminatory ban on Muslims. The judges must also weigh the harm the ban imposes, and whether it is proper for them to intervene in a national security matter on which the president is viewed as the ultimate authority.” The court said it expects to make a decision on the matter “probably this week” – affecting the plans of tens of thousands of travelers whose visas have been stuck in a state of agonizing limbo.
— Trump weighed in on the case this morning:
If the U.S. does not win this case as it so obviously should, we can never have the security and safety to which we are entitled. Politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017
— A Quinnipiac University poll finds that 51 percent of Americans are opposed to Trump’s order suspending travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, while 60 percent oppose Trump’s order to halt refugee travel to the U.S. for 120 days. By a margin of 70 percent to 26 percent, voters oppose Trump’s order to indefinitely block Syrian refugees.
GET SMART FAST:
- A wall of violent thunderstorms barreled through Louisiana, unleashing a powerful torrent of tornadoes that wiped homes from foundations, downed power lines, and threatened to wreak structural havoc in parts of eastern New Orleans. Sadly, most of the damage is concentrated near the city’s 9th Ward — the area that saw the most devastation from Hurricane Katrina. (Angela Fritz)
- A NASA facility in NOLA suffered a direct hit from one of the twisters, causing damage to a building where workers are building key components of a new deep-space rocket. It ripped holes in the roof and walls, but officials are still working to determine the total extent of the damage. (Joel Achenbach
- Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is “strongly” leaning toward picking the state’s attorney general Luther Strange to replace. Jeff Sessions. Operatives cautioned that the governor has not formally tapped Strange to replace Sessions, and Bentley could change his mind. But all three said that Strange – a hulking former basketball player nicknamed “Big Luther” – has made plans to travel to D.C. this week. Another source said he has reached out to set up interviews over the coming days in Washington with potential staffers for a Senate office. (Politico)
- PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, a key Trump supporter, has decided not to run for governor of California in 2018. He would have gotten absolutely crushed if he had, so this is just a bow to reality that will save him millions of his fortune. (Los Angeles Times)
- The wife of a Russian opposition activist who was hospitalized last week after falling suddenly ill said he was poisoned by an “unidentified substance.” The news comes after her husband Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. — a journalist and ally of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov – began experiencing symptoms similar to a mysterious poisoning that nearly killed him two years earlier. (AP)
- A suicide bomber struck Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in Kabul, killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 40 others. No one immediately claimed responsibility, though the attack bore hallmarks of recent Taliban-led assaults. (AP)
- A multi-state killing spree along the Gulf Coast came to an end overnight after Georgia police faced off with a couple accused of murdering four women in a twisted rampage. Police said they took suspect Mary Rice into custody, while William Boyette killed himself before his arrest. (Travis M. Andrews)
- Residents in a small Arkansas town that has not seen a homicide in more than 25 years are reeling after a beloved 21-year-old convenience store clerk was allegedly shot dead at work by a 12-year-old boy. (Kristine Guerra)
- A Pennsylvania woman was found dead in a clothing donation bin after she apparently attempted to rummage through the items late at night – causing the door to snap shut on her arm and leaving her dangling for hours in midair. Officials are mystified, noting that her enormous SUV did not appear to suggest she was looking for handouts. (Travis M. Andrews)
- Two open-carry advocates were arrested after marching into a Michigan police station wearing balaclava and toting loaded rifles. The duo said they were simply trying to make a statement about gun laws as they stopped in to file a traffic complaint – but incredulous law enforcement officials said their sunglasses and body armor suggested differently. (Amy B. Wang)
- In Bolivia, reckless drivers are equally likely to be confronted by a steely-faced police officer as they are by a … dancing human decked out in a zebra costume. The striped-suited pedestrians are part of a legitimate program to help enforce roadway safety, and though their methods may be downright bizarre – rather than issuing a ticket, for example, a “zebra” may lay on the hood of a driver’s vehicle – they have been found to be surprisingly effective. The program seeks to emulate a similar Colombian effort that used mimes as a means of deterrence – and managed to slash area traffic fatalities in half. (The Atlantic)
MORE WEST WING INTRIGUE:
— The White House is ramping up its search for a communications director, seeking to lighten the load of embattled press secretary Sean Spicer after his initial performance personally “disappointed” the president. Trump is upset with Reince Priebus over the selection of Spicer, CNN’s Jim Acosta reports. “Priebus vouched for Spicer and against Trump’s instincts,’ [a] source said. The President ‘regrets it every day and blames Priebus,’ the source added. But a senior administration official says Trump supports Spicer ‘100%.’”
— Trump makes a 3 a.m. phone call. From the Huffington Post’s S.V. Dáte and Christina Wilkie:“President Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that’s good for the economy? Or a weak one? So … he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn’s accounts of the incident. Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead. Trump was not thrilled with that response ― but that may have been a function of the time of day. Trump had placed the call at 3 a.m., according to one of Flynn’s retellings ― although neither the White House nor Flynn’s office responded to requests for confirmation about that detail.”
Two more nuggets:
- “The commander in chief doesn’t like to read long memos, a White House aide who asked to remain unnamed told The Huffington Post. So preferably they must be no more than a single page. They must have bullet points but not more than nine per page.”
- “He’s registered a complaint about the hand towels aboard Air Force One, the White House aide said, because they are not soft enough.”
Key quote from the story: “I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president. … This is what happens when you have a narcissist as president.”
— “Of the many puzzles posed by President Trump’s administration, the role of the National Security Council is among the trickiest,” Post columnist David Ignatius explains. “The NSC usually tries to act as an ‘honest broker’ among Cabinet agencies. But how will it function under a headstrong president who sees his role as disruptor and tweeter-in-chief? … Flynn spoke with me for an hour last Friday. He talked about Trump’s management style, Bannon’s role and his model for how the NSC should work. His comments didn’t answer any of the big questions about Trump’s presidency … But [he] presented a calmer and less combative image than when he mocked Hillary Clinton by chanting ‘Lock her up!’ during the Republican National Convention. … Flynn’s real test will be his relationship with his boss. He likened Trump to the chariot driver in ‘Ben-Hur,’ urging his horses forward. That image captures Flynn’s challenge: how to build an orderly national security process led by a whip-cracking charioteer.”
— “Doug Ericksen is trying to hold down two jobs in two different Washingtons. And it’s not going terribly well,” by Lisa Rein and Brady Dennis: “Ericksen was an early backer of [Trump] who shares the president’s skepticism of environmental regulations and climate change. In January, he was rewarded with a job in Washington D.C., running communications and helping to reshape the Environmental Protection Agency. But he didn’t leave his old job to take on the new one. Erickson remains a top Republican in the Washington state Senate, which is currently in session 2,808 miles due west in Olympia. His absence is the linchpin to party control of the state Senate, since Washington state Republicans control the chamber by just one vote. Without him, party-line votes are tied … But Ericksen has pretty much been missing in action for the first month of the legislature’s 105- day session. Presidential transition experts say they cannot recall a precedent for the unusual arrangement of a politician with a day job serving in a temporary federal job. And it’s put Ericksen on the fault line between parties, the coasts and the rift between federal and state governments that Trump’s election laid bare.”
— Yemen has withdrawn permission for the U.S. to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, after the first Trump-authorized commando raid left multiple civilians dead. “The raid, in which just about everything went wrong, was an early test of Mr. Trump’s national security decision-making — and his willingness to rely on the assurances of his military advisers,” the New York Times’ David E. Sanger reports on the front page. Grisly…