A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

8 February 2017

Sen. Daines brings shame upon himself, the U.S. Senate, and Montana


Perhaps if Montana’s Republican U.S. Senator, Steve Daines, were a closer student of Anthony Comstock, and of how Comstock’s Banned in Boston became the best advertising for books the old prig loathed, he would not have invoked Rule 19 to gag Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

As I think all of Flathead Memo’s readers know by now, Warren, speaking against confirming Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, began reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, a letter already in the Senate record, denouncing Sessions’ fitness to be a federal judge. Sessions was not confirmed as a judge, but obtained revenge by winning election to the Senate (another successful seeker of vengeance was Alcee Hastings, who, after being impeached as a federal judge in 1989, won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he still serves).

Section 2 of Rule 19 prohibits Senators from “…directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” It was adopted in 1902, reports Talking Points Memo’s Lauren Fox, after South Carolina’s Senators, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and John McLaurin engaged in fisticuffs on the Senate’s floor. Tillman, a white supremacist whose vile racism has seldom been matched, led a paramilitary group of Red Shirts, domestic terrorists, in the violent 1876 election in South Carolina. Compared to Tillman, Richard Spencer is an ecumenical pussycat.

According to TMP:

The last use of Rule 19 appeared to be in 1979, according to a Bloomberg reporter who’d pulled the congressional record on the incident.

In that incident, the reporter recounted that “John Heinz (R-PA) invoked Rule XIX after Lowell Weicker (R-CT) called him ‘an idiot’ and ‘devious.’” There was never a vote on the rule, however, because Sen. Robert Byrd “worked out a truce.”

What makes Daines’ shutdown of Warren so strange and shameful is that she was discharging her constitutional obligation as a senator to advise and consent on the nomination of Sessions, yet observing decorum by not personally attacking Sessions. She was simply inserting fact — King’s letter — into the debate. Daines was objecting to fact, not calumny. I think he knew the difference.

That, reports Fox, is what troubles Norm Ornstein:

The use of the rule Tuesday was jarring for congressional experts like Norm Ornstein.

“It is rarely applied,” Ornstein said. “The whole thing struck me as peculiar.”

Ornstein argued that what was strange to him was that Warren wasn’t talking about Sessions in his official capacity as a senator, she was discussing him in his capacity as a cabinet nominee. Warren also was reading from a letter, not speaking out against him with her own words.

“It was an odd thing, and I don’t know whether it was an attempt to get at Warren because he does not like Warren or to show who is boss or out of frustration because these confirmations have been going on so long,” Ornstein said.

The result of Daines’ and the Republicans’ misapplication of Rule 19? Warren becomes a martyr, and her remarks and King’s letter are amplified and distributed far and wide. At The Western Word, J.M. Brown observed:

When Daines brought up the violation of Rule 19 (which probably happens almost every day and is seldom ruled on) all he and the Republicans did was give Warren and the Democrats publicity. Nobody would be writing and talking about it last night and today and it would have gone unnoticed if not for Daines and McConnell pulling their little trick.

The fact is that Sessions, in 2017, is going to be the next Attorney General. His nomination to be a federal judge was defeated in 1986.

Another fact is Senator Elizabeth Warren is now the face of the opposition to Trump and the Republicans thanks to Daines and McConnell.

That’s the Banned in Boston effect.

Besides making Warren a martyr, Daines, helped by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to throw mud at Warren, made the Senate’s Republicans look like petty and vindictive state legislators, and reminded everyone that in 2014, Montana’s voters sent to the majors a player whose Peter Principle ceiling is Single A ball. Our state comes out smelling not like a rose but like the substance addressed in SB-173 in the Montana Legislature.

Was Daines’ takedown of Warren motivated in part by misogyny? Writing at Intelligent Discontent, Cherilyn DeVries and Alison James think so:

Montana women are accustomed to being dismissed by Senator Steve Daines. On healthcare, reproductive rights, education, and domestic violence prevention, Daines has been working against women all along. And it’s also not unusual to see Daines acting as the mouthpiece of the GOP’s ultra-conservative agenda.

We’re not surprised, but we are fed up with Senator Daines and his inability to listen. So let’s help him out with some unfinished business this week: stop by one of Daines’ offices and drop off a copy of King’s letter along with a personal note stating your objection to Daines’ behavior toward Warren.

DeVries and James provide a list of Daines’ offices.

Letting Daines know how much you loved his takedown of Warren’s a start, but the best response will be (a) helping a strong Democratic candidate defeat Daines when he stands for re-election in 2020, and (b) sending Warren money to help her win re-election in 2018.