In 1902, the two senators from South Carolina, Ben Tillman and John McLaurin, physically attacked each other on the floor of the Senate while debating a bill relating to the annexation of the Philippines. The Senate censured both men and passed Rule XIX, which Sen. Mitch McConnell recently invoked to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Tillman was a “white supremacist who advocated until his death the lynching of black people who tried to vote.” Rule XIX was passed to stem the vitriolic and violent behavior of Tillman, who struck the first blow in the exchange of insults with McLaurin and in the fight that ensued.
One cannot fail to note the irony of McConnell using a rule passed to control the behavior of a 19th century racist to prevent the reading of a letter written by a courageous black woman of the 20th century.
McConnell is a powerful man. But, in this instance, he used his power to selectively quiet a female senator who was attempting to read a 30-year-old letter that was already in the Congressional Record.
McConnell’s invocation of the rule means that when a senator is being considered for confirmation to another government office, and his/her qualifications are being debated, nothing negative can be said. That is not a debate.
Marilyn S. Daniel