UPDATE: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was confirmed to be the 84th Attorney General of the United States last night in a party line 52-47 vote. In his closing remarks, Sessions also reiterated some of what Rubio said in this speech yesterday, namely the ability to get along and not take political disagreement personally.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took to the Senate floor to voice his concerns about the upper chamber. Last night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) used remarks from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in her speech opposing the attorney general nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). In those remarks referring to Sessions' failed 1986 federal judgeship nomination, Kennedy described Sessions as a disgrace. Presiding officer Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) offered his first warning. When she continued her remarks by saying that Sessions, in his capacity as a U.S. Attorney, worked to disenfranchise black voters, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intervened to shut her down under Rule 19 of the Senate. Under that provision, no senator shall “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.” Warren was asked to take her seat.
In a party line vote (49-43), Warren’s speaking privileges were suspended for the remainder of the debate period concerning the Sessions nomination. Senate Democrats said speech was being muzzled in the Senate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said this move on behalf of Senate Republicans was “incomprehensible.”
"We need to hear all points of view," Sanders said.
Guy noted that perhaps the invocation of this rule at this particular point was a misstep—while also adding that many remarks bad mouthing others is more common than we like to see in the “world’s most deliberative body.” Former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was a terrible offender of Rule 19, but nothing happened to him.
Yet, Rubio said that this incident serves as a warning concerning the breakdown of debate in America. That if we cannot have a civil and cordial debate on the issues in the U.S. Senate, then no substantive debate can be held anywhere in the country. The Florida senator admitted that there have been times where he fell short of honoring this principle—and that he’s not proud of those moments. But he reminded his colleagues that there were a lot of nasty things said about Hillary Clinton and John Kerry when they were nominated to serve in the president’s cabinet and none of those remarks were ever mentioned to be brought into the record to be used against them.
Rubio stressed that this isn’t a partisan issue and that if a member of his party engaged in similar behavior, he likes to think that he would have voiced an objection. He then talked about legislative bodies where decorum has broken down, with chairs and punches are thrown at the opposition.
“Now I’m not arguing that we’re anywhere near that here tonight, but we’re flirting with it. We’re flirting with it in this body and we’re flirting with it in this country. We have become a society incapable of having debates anymore,” he said.
Over at RedState, Andrea Ruth had some more excerpts:
I want people to think about our politics here in America, because I’m telling you guys that I don’t know of a single nation in this history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in the country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country. This is the most important country in the word, and people in this body cannot function if people are offending one another and that’s why those rules are in place.
The linchpin of that debate is the ability of this institution through unlimited debate and the decorum necessary for that debate, to be able to conduct itself in that manner. And so, I know tonight was probably a made for T.V. moment for some people. This has nothing to do with censoring the words of some great heroes. I have extraordinary admiration for the men and women who led the civil rights effort in this country.
Oh, and speaking of civil rights, the NAACP, which is staunchly opposed to Sessions’ nomination as attorney general, gave the Alabama senator the Governmental Award of Excellence in 2009.