Montana U.S. Steve Daines gaveled down Democratic superstar Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday night, cutting off the senator from Massachusetts in mid-debate and ordering her to take her seat.
The censure has become a cause célèbre on social media, and Daines, a little-known Republican freshman senator from Montana, drew attention for silencing Warren, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.
Daines was chairing a debate about attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, an Alabama senator with a civil rights record that Democrats have objected to for decades. Daines told The Gazette it just happened to be his turn chairing proceedings and wasn't aware Warren would be testifying during that time.
Warren began reading from a 1986 letter from civil rights icon Coretta Scott King, in which she discouraged the U.S. Senate from appointing Sessions to the U.S. District Court. When Warren cited King’s concerns about Sessions' record on voting rights, Daines shut her down.
“You stated that a sitting senator is a disgrace to the Department of Justice,” Daines said. He then carefully repeated the language of Rule 19, read to him by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough.
“She was clearly in violation of what they call Rule 19,” Daines told Lee Montana newspapers Wednesday. “Rule 19 is a standing rule of the Senate and the intent is to place some boundaries around what is appropriate to say and what is not appropriate to say as it relates to personal attacks on standing U.S. senators,” Daines said.
The rule includes referencing quotes, articles and other materials, Daines said.
Warren continued until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shut her down again.
“I’m surprised that the words of Mrs. King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said.
Then, Daines shut Warren down for good.
“The senator will take her seat,” Daines said. Later, the Senate took a vote not only to uphold the rule, but to ban Warren from the floor for the rest of the session.
Not backing down from the decision, Daines posted on his Twitter account a video of him gaveling down Warren. He wrote in the post “The Senator Will Take Her Seat.”
Montanans were watching.
“The rule is very selectively enforced in the Senate,” said Caitlin Borgmann of the Montana American Civil Liberties Union. “If there’s any place free speech should be protected it is on the floors of Congress. I think it’s fair to assume Jeannette Rankin is probably turning in her grave.”
Rankin, a Montana Republican, was the first women elected to Congress. She helped passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
King’s 1986 letter opposing Sessions addressed the rights of black voters. The passage Warren read was “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” It was the passage Daines cited in shutting down Warren.
Warren exited the Senate chamber and read King’s letter on Facebook Live. The post went viral.
She vowed on Twitter to not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory and racist comments that have no place in our justice system.
I will not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory & racist comments that have no place in our justice system.— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) February 8, 2017
Several senators went on to read from King’s letter on the Senate floor. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., wasn’t among them.
Tester testified that he could not endorse Sessions because the senator from Alabama had not supported the Violence Against Women Act, a key component in funding domestic abuse programs nationally. Sessions also supported the PATRIOT Act, legislation Tester said infringes on privacy rights.
"Mr. Sessions has proven that he will not protect our individual freedoms and he won't stand up for those who can't speak for themselves. I am proud to stand with thousands of Montanans who value their right to privacy and protections for women and children,” Tester said.
When contacted by Lee Montana newspapers, Tester chose not to comment on Daines gaveling down Warren.
“Right now Jon is focused on protecting Montanans’ right to privacy and standing up for victims of domestic violence, not playing political games,” said Marnee Banks, Tester spokesperson.