The new Hillary was created last night but instead of the chant to lock her up, it was an invocation of Senate Rule 19 to lock her out. The her is Elizabeth Warren, sent to her room—the cloakroom in this case—by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for impugning fellow Senator Jeff Sessions, whose vote to become attorney general is today. Her sin was to quote Coretta Scott King.
Until that moment, there was no leader of the wounded Democratic Party, which, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer aside, will be whomever emerges as the strongest presidential candidate. President Donald Trump has made no secret that he prefers Warren in 2020. He beat one woman, send on another, especially one who can’t claw her way back to the middle like Clinton did and one he knows the Manhattan donor class doesn’t like for taking on the banks. Say Warren’s name in Manhattan and you get a guttural sound of disgust. I’ve heard it.
This affront could change that. I’m looking for a Republican who wants to send McConnell to his room instead, but it’s hard. Warren’s banishment until the debate ends was upheld by a party-line vote. Senators rose on the floor to defend McConnell. Marco Rubio warned that if Warren were to be allowed to impugn Session’s suitability to be attorney general with the words of the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, they would be flirting with the lack of decorum in other parliaments where they throw chairs at each other. Sen. Orrin Hatch said we would “devolve into a jungle.” Sen. John Thune varied ever so slightly on MSNBC, conceding it was a “judgment call” to invoke the rarely used rule and that the night was about “2020 politics.”
It was about that and it was a night when a martyr was born, catapulting Warren into a status way beyond Occupy Wall Street that she couldn’t have achieved on her own, with 5 million friends on Facebook, a Twitter hashtag #LetLizSpeak, and T-shirts selling out online. Eat your heart out, Cory Booker, left to speak to an empty chamber and a C-SPAN camera.
Even though McConnell is married to a smart woman chosen to be in Trump’s Cabinet (Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who’s been known to commune with the enemy in the Hamptons), he shushed Warren like a 6-year-old sent to bed without dessert. She was warned, he said, she was given an explanation. “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Cue the bumper stickers.
For a much bigger breach of decorum when Sen. Ted Cruz called him a liar on the Senate floor, McConnell felt no need to invoke Rule 19. And Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Chris Coons were not silenced when they later read the words of the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King. What do they have that Warren doesn’t?
She wasn't silenced out of pique. McConnell is not a spontaneous man and he's been itching to flex his muscle. From the looks of it, McConnell and company are brushing off the women’s march which, no matter who is counting, swamped the crowds who showed up for the inauguration. Nevermind. For now, the party is throwing its lot in with Trump and, like him, playing only to its base.
Their message to women: Go ahead, unite. We’ll lock you out and lock in our base.
We’ll see if the momentary high of silencing Warren and setting her up as the face of the opposition is greater than the energizing effect it has on women and the Democratic Party.