WASHINGTON — The only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate had a message Wednesday for his colleagues after they shut down Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow: Listen to what Coretta Scott King had to say.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) forced Warren to stop speaking and sit down Tuesday night by invoking the rarely used Rule XIX. Warren tried to quote a 1986 letter King wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general. McConnell, noting that the rule bars senators from impugning the character of other senators, barred Warren from reading King’s harsh words against Sessions.
That apparently did not sit well with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), although he voted with his colleagues to silence Warren.
In a remarkable floor speech, Scott explained why King’s letter was important, and why he voted against Warren, anyway.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the letter written by Coretta Scott King could, and perhaps should, be read by each and every member of this chamber,” Scott said. “Regardless of if you disagree with her conclusions, her standing in the history of our nation means her voice should be heard.”
Scott said what he objected to was Warren quoting the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass), who in 1986 called Sessions a “disgrace” when Sessions was nominated for — and blocked from ― a federal judgeship.
“What I took issue with last night, and the true violation of Rule XIX in my eyes, were the remarks shared last night originally stated by Sen. Kennedy, not Coretta Scott King,” Scott said. McConnell specifically referenced King’s letter, and did not mention Kennedy’s words.
“Whether you like it or not, this body has rules, and we all should govern ourselves according to the rules,” Scott said.
Scott’s admonition that King’s words should be heard was remarkable enough. But he also offered a lesson in tolerance to liberals, reading from messages disparaging him on social media for backing Sessions.
One called him an “Uncle Tom S,” Scott said. “S is not for Scott. It is for fertilizer.”
Another said Scott was “a white man in a black body.”
He said another called his African-American chief of staff “high yella, an implication that she’s just not black enough.”
“You are a disgrace to the black race,” Scott quoted another message.
“Think for yourself. You are a disgrace to your race,” Scott said another wrote. “I left out all the ones that used the N-word.”
He said that while he read the comments to make a point, he has grown used to such attacks, and they will not change him.
“When I leave the United States Senate one day, I’m still going to be black, an African-American. Black every day, black every way,” he said.
Scott argued that each side’s base is trying to pull the nation apart, and that it was up to members of the world’s greatest deliberative body to resist.
He made clear he did not think the showdown between McConnell and Warren was good for the Senate, or the country.
“Last night, there was no doubt that emotions were very high, and I’m not necessarily happy with where that has left us,” Scott said. “The Senate needs to function. We need to have comity in this body if we are to work for the American people.”
Republicans relented on barring King’s words Wednesday morning, when they allowed three male senators to read them into the record.