Jeff Sessions was confirmed as US attorney general on February 8 — but not without a fight.
In an incident on the Senate floor that quickly became notorious, the Senate used an arcane rule to bar Sen. Elizabeth Warren from speaking further against Sessions as she read a letter by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.
King wrote the letter in 1986, in opposition to Sessions’s then-nomination for a federal judgeship on the grounds that he regularly “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.” Later in the evening, Warren’s male colleague Sen. Jeff Merkley read portions of the same letter himself, without incident.
Warren’s subsequent reading of the letter on Facebook Live has since been viewed more than 6 million times, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reasoning for invoking a technicality — “she was warned, she was given an explanation; nevertheless, she persisted” — has since been repurposed as a feminist rallying cry. Many people responded angrily and viscerally to the way Warren was silenced but Merkley was not. Not only did the hashtag #ShePersisted fly around social media, it was also rapidly emblazoned on mugs, T-shirts, and anything else Etsy’s ever dreamed of, and put up for sale online.
After the Sessions vote, Daily Show host Trevor Noah tried to ask Warren why her male colleague got to read the letter after she was barred from speaking, and whether she and Mitch McConnell have since realized “what a solid he’s done you.”
But Warren was single-mindedly passionate about one thing: “Millions of people are now reading Coretta Scott King’s letter.”
“It has an important lesson today for all of America,” she said, “... about why it’s so important to have public officials who actually believe in equal rights and equal opportunities for every one of us.”
Later in her interview with Noah, she explained that “Republicans are not saying that those are not the facts, [that Sessions has] changed … no, what they’re saying is, you don’t get to talk about that.”
So for whatever swell of support and hashtag notoriety she’s found, Warren said she’s grateful that the fallout has made for “a better democratic conversation.”
“We don’t have the votes in the US Senate to block someone like Jeff Sessions, or a secretary of education who doesn’t believe in public education,” Warren said frankly. “So what we’ve got to do is count on people all around this country to make their voices heard.”
In other words: Elizabeth Warren is sure hoping that in the face of overwhelming opposition, those rallying around her will follow her example and persist.