Wednesday, February 08, 2017

If You Can't Impugn A Nominee, What's The Point Of The Hearing Process?

Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the Senate debate over the attorney general debate  for reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King that said, in part,
 "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.  For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship."


The Senate GOP invoked a rule against impugning a colleague.  Here's a copy of the rule from a Tweet by Senator Hatch:

And to clarify a bit more, here are some dictionary definitions of 'impugn.'
  • to challenge as false (another's statements, motives, etc.); cast doubt upon. (
  • to assail by words or arguments :  oppose or attack as false or lacking integrity (Merriam-Webster)
  • to cause people to doubt or not trust someone’s character, honesty, or ability (Cambridge dictionary)
  • To attack as false or questionable; challenge in argument: impugn a political opponent's record. (Free Dictionary)

It's admirable that the Senate has rules that forbid Senators from insulting one another.  But what happens when a Senator actually conducts him or herself in a way that is "unworthy or unbecoming of a Senator"?  Everyone is supposed to pretend it didn't happen?  

I can wholeheartedly support the idea of 'falsely impugning' being banned, but if one is simply calling out an actual behavior unworthy of a Senator, shouldn't that be allowable?

Senate Confirmation Hearings

But let's also recognize that in this session (no pun intended) Mr. Jeff Sessions (rather than Senator Jeff Sessions) is being considered for the position of Attorney General. Sessions has two distinct roles here.   It is not in his role as a fellow Senator that he is being impugned,  but in his role as a candidate for Attorney General whose qualifications are being debated. (I'm assuming here that Sessions doesn't get to vote on his own nomination, but maybe I'm wrong. It appears I am wrong.)

If a Senator cannot raise questions about a presidential nominee in confirmation hearings, what is the point of the the hearing?  The fact that the nominee also happens to be a US Senator should be irrelevant.   To say it is ok to impugn nominees as long as they are not Senators is a joke.

Why Is Warren's Speech Relevant

The words that were so offensive were the words of Coretta Scott King speaking from personal observation.  This is the wife of civil rights her Martin Luther King.  She was intimately involved in the event she writes about.

The event she alluded to was the prosecution, by then Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions, of a black voting rights worker, Albert Turner, who was helping elderly black voters to register to vote and to actually vote.  The jury acquitted Turner.  

Abuse Of Power

I'm trying to write this as objectively as possible, but it's hard. Up to this point I've done ok.  But to write dispassionately about outrageous abuses of power is to support the abuse. I should say abuses.

First, there is the silencing of Senator Warren and the words of Coretta Scott King.  The silencing of the voices of black and white women by white men isn't new.  That doesn't make it right.

Second is the idea of Sessions as the attorney general.   The attorney general is supposed to uphold the law and to protect the civil rights of Americans and this nominee's record is so poor as to be laughable, yet he's close to confirmation.  (Not everyone agrees.) This is the perfect Stephen Bannon appointee.

The damage being done to American democracy by Donald Trump and his henchmen will take so much time to undo, and the suffering and injustices that come from it will never be totally undone.  

And both Alaskan US Senators voted along with the other Republicans to silence Sen. Warren.  I don't expect anything else from Sullivan, but Murkowski knows better.  She's already voted against DeVos, does she think this vote will buy her forgiveness from Trump's vengeance? 


  1. The truth is the truth. To speak truth about another's character and job performance isn't impugning that person.

  2. To understand this, one need only look at the resulting vote: Partisan. One man's truth is another man's insult (I use the male gender intentionally).

    Speech tain't free at all, if it really matters.


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