Issac Bailey: Coretta Scott King's words on Jeff Sessions not welcome in the Senate
Mitch McConnell's stance will not sit well in an increasingly diverse America
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his.
Coretta Scott King’s words are not welcome on the floor of the US Senate because the Republican Party has deemed them unworthy of debate before that august body.
That’s what happened last night when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced Sen. Elizabeth Warren to go sit in a corner because she read from a letter King wrote in 1986 opposing Jeff Sessions becoming a federal judge.
“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters,” King wrote.
McConnell threw red meat to the Republican base. But he did so by forcing an accomplished woman into silence while denigrating the legacy of a civil rights icon. That’s a bell that can’t be unrung. No longer will they be able to conjure up a caricature of the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose affirmative action and social welfare programs, like they’ve done so many times over the past couple of decades.
Not, at least, without being reminded that the party didn’t even want the words of King’s wife – a civil rights stalwart in her own right – to be used to consider who should oversee the country’s primary civil rights enforcement agency. This further cements the party’s problems with groups whose political power will only increase in the coming years.
Coretta Scott King’s words supposedly impugned the character of a US Senator – even though they were written about a time before Sessions was in the Senate.
Warren used the letter to remind her colleagues why a Sessions nomination remained controversial – as they considered making him our next attorney general.
Republican strategists may be giddy about that exchange. They are convinced someone as progressive as Warren can’t connect with middle America, which is where they believe the next couple of political cycles will be won or lost and why Warren becoming the face of the Democratic Party is good for their political future. They are suffering from delusions borne of recent political successes.
Republicans are still high on November’s election, in which they kept control of the Senate and retook the White House while ignoring the concerns of minority groups and demeaning women. It was a winning strategy in 2016. Why can’t it lead to victory again in 2018, 2020 and beyond?
They seem to forget that even during November’s victory, their candidate lost the popular vote by almost 3 million and entered office with the worst approval rating of any modern president, a rating which has only worsened during his first few weeks in office. And it is highly unlikely that there will be a drip, drip, drip from WikiLeaks or constant talk of an email server or a last-minute intervention by the head of the FBI to shave off just enough votes to provide Republicans with a winning margin next time around.
They’ve forgotten that the country remains on track to become majority-minority within the next few decades and that the electorate is likely to become more diverse every election cycle. That will surely lead to the strengthening of the voices of those they used as a political football last night in order to protect the image of a man with a controversial past.
A Republican Party, that is elevating a man who rose to political prominence on the bigotry of birtherism and refused to codify a bipartisan immigration proposal a few years ago; that cheers on the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite the concerns of Native Americans; that approves of an executive order that is a giant step towards Donald Trump’s long-promised Muslim ban; that empowers Wall Street executives while stripping away consumer protections for everyday Americans; and that wants to confirm a man as the nation’s top attorney no matter the objections from the nation’s top civil rights voices, is a Republican Party reveling in its current political power.
The GOP knows it will win these early fights. Sessions will be the nation’s next attorney general. Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court will be confirmed, no matter that the GOP didn’t even provide President Obama’s final nominee with a single hearing. Elections have consequences.
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What it fails to realize, though, is that all of these actions will have consequences as well. Minority groups who opposed Trump by wide margins in November will only oppose him, and the Republicans who support him, more in the coming years – with a greater intensity and focus. Many of the women who held their noses in November and voted for Trump anyway won’t ignore his flaws the next time. They will remember nights like last night, when a female senator was silenced for reading the words of a female icon. That message was further underscored when Warren’s male colleagues were allowed to read the same words this morning without interruption.
I can hear the political ad now.
“Not even Coretta Scott King would be welcome by today’s Republican Party.”
Given the man the party chose as its nominee and the policies and nominees it decided to stand behind during his first few weeks in office, that sentiment will ring true in a way it hasn’t in quite some time.