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Silenced by the Senate, Elizabeth Warren explains why she opposes Jeff Sessions

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  • AUDIE CORNISH:

    Moving over to the Senate, where the debate over the nomination of Jeff Sessions ran deep into the night and partisan tensions spilled over.

    Lisa Desjardins starts us off.

  • MAN:

    The senator from Massachusetts.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-Mass.:

    Thank you, Mr. President.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    She was midway through her speech opposing attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    Coretta Scott King also wrote to the Judiciary Committee about the Sessions nomination in 1986.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    When Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren turned to a decades-old letter by the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., opposing Sessions' nomination to a judgeship. Mrs. King called his record on race at that point, reprehensible.

    Warren read out loud:

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen."

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Warren was interrupted multiple times.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    … enforcement of those laws.

  • MAN:

    The senator is reminded that is a violation of Rule 19.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Told she'd broken a rule.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.

  • MAN:

    Is there objection?

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader:

    I object.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    I appeal the ruling.

  • MAN:

    Objection is heard. The senator will take her seat.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The rarely-invoked rule bans senators from criticizing one another directly in the chamber.

  • Republican Leader Mitch McConnell:

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

    The senator has impugned the motive and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Now, this led to an unusual vote over whether to silence Warren. She lost, and now cannot speak again during Sessions' confirmation debate.

    Senator McConnell later told reporters — quote — "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

    It is a time of rancor. That rare vote to silence a sitting senator came as Democrats have forced two overnight debates in a row. It is their protest of Trump's nominees. And those overnights may continue into the weekend.

    President Trump weighed in on it all last night on Twitter. He tweeted: "It is a disgrace that my full Cabinet is still not in place."

    Trump's critics point out, several of his nominees didn't complete their paperwork quickly. Labor nominee Andrew Puzder submitted his final ethics documents to a committee today.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Lisa Desjardins at the U.S. Capitol.

  • AUDIE CORNISH:

    I spoke with Senator Elizabeth Warren a short time ago to get her take on the 11th-hour drama in the Senate.

    I began by asking if she believed Jeff Sessions would use his power as attorney general to work against minority voters.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    What I know is what Jeff Sessions has actually done, and I think it is an important part of the record.

    I was shut down for saying exactly that sentence, repeating it out of Coretta Scott King's letter. But I urge everybody, read the whole letter, because what it talks about is, when Jeff Sessions was U.S. attorney for Alabama, he prosecuted civil rights workers for doing what? For trying to help elderly African-Americans vote.

    And when he came up then for a federal judgeship, both Senator Ted Kennedy and Coretta Scott King said no. And Coretta Scott King sent a letter to the United States Senate, which was Republican-controlled, and ultimately that Republican-controlled Senate said no to his nomination to the federal bench.

    And I assume at least part of the reason for that was the information contained in Coretta Scott King's letter.

  • AUDIE CORNISH:

    But the Republican-led Senate right now is planning to say yes, right? This is the discussion you're locked out of. What aspect of the attorney general's power do you think that Jeff Sessions could use against the voters? What are you most concerned about?

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    I'm concerned about every part of it.

    The attorney general, as the ultimate law enforcement official in the United States, is the one who decides whether or not you prosecute violations of the Voting Rights Act. He is the one who ultimately will have the word on how our immigration laws are carried out.

    He's the one who will make the decision whether or not the Justice Department is there for African-Americans, whether it's there for Latinos, whether it's there for women, whether it's there for people whose rights are being violated, or whether it's a Justice Department who just stands on the side of the rich and the powerful.

  • AUDIE CORNISH:

    Now, recently speaking before progressive activists in Baltimore, you said that Democrats who are focused on just kind of changing the party message need to grow a backbone. What do you mean by that and are you seeing them grow that backbone now?

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    Look, I think we have to get out and fight for what we believe in.

    I get it. We don't have the tools in the Senate to be able to stop the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be the attorney general, unless we can get some help from the Republicans. We don't have the tools to be able to stop someone like Betsy DeVos, who doesn't believe in public education, to become the secretary of education.

    And I could continue to go through the list. So, what we have got to do is, we have got to get in there and make our case. We have got to make our case for the fact that, you know, I get it that Donald Trump and I are not of the same party, we don't see the world the same way.

    But he is not nominating people who are just conservative Republicans. He's going out to the way fringes. He's bringing in someone to run the EPA who doesn't believe in climate change, someone to run the Treasury Department who made money by foreclosing against families who had been cheated on mortgages.

    We have got to make our case. And, ultimately, this one's going to be about democracy, getting enough people around this country to say, I'm watching, I care what happens in Washington, and I'm going to be pushing back on any of my senators, any of my representatives, and on the president of the United States if they do not represent the values of the people of this country.

  • AUDIE CORNISH:

    What do you think the next step should be? There are going to be votes on Tom Price to be health and human services secretary, Steve Mnuchin, as you mentioned, for Treasury.

    As you said, the Democrats can't stop these nominee from going forward. What do you have in the power — in the way of oversight to effectively watch over these people that you have really raised the alarm about?

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    Well, part of it is why I wanted everyone to read Coretta Scott King's letter.

    It's a deeply moving letter. It lays out the facts about Jeff Sessions, but it also reminds us of a moment in history when people came together and said, I don't care how many times you knock us down, we're going to get back up and we're going to fight for what is right, we're going to change this wasn't country into a better country, a country that works not just for those at the top, a country that works for all of us.

    I think that's what we have to do now. That's what we're called on to do, to use every possible tool that we can to do that. And that means, for example, with Jeff Sessions.

    Right now, I hope everyone will go read her letter. I put it on my Facebook. I tweeted about it. But I hope that, even if the Republicans lock arms and go ahead and confirm him as attorney general of the United States, that everybody stays involved, that we are there every day to look over his shoulder, to look at every judgment made by the Department of Justice and make sure that this government works, not just for those who have already made it, but this government works for everybody.

  • AUDIE CORNISH:

    Democrat and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, thank you for speaking with us.

  • SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

    Thank you.

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