Mitch McConnell's Rules for Good Behavior
If Donald Trump were a senator, Mitch McConnell might have to muzzle him. He isn’t, so he won’t, but it’s worth pausing to consider how far the Senate majority leader could take his campaign for civility.
On Tuesday, McConnell invoked Senate rules to cut off a speech from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren was quoting from a 30-year-old letter that civil rights leader Coretta Scott King had written criticizing Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general.
Sessions is still a member of the Senate, however, and personal criticism of members is not allowed on the Senate floor. Specifically, according to Senate Rule 19, members may not “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.”
This call to better senatorial angels may seem incongruous in an institution where Theodore Bilbo, Joseph McCarthy and others have trafficked in vicious slanders. In this case, McConnell’s fit of pique only served to better advertise what he was trying to suppress. Warren’s comments -- which were hardly offensive, much less insulting -- are now reverberating across the internet.
There they vie for attention with President Donald Trump’s tweets, many of which he would not be allowed to recite from the Senate floor. Certainly his tweet that Senator Chuck Schumer is the Democrats’ “head clown” would run afoul of Rule 19.
Trump is not a senator, however, so McConnell allows his daily assaults on American dignity and common sense to go unanswered. It would be better if he -- and other Republicans -- held the president to the same standards they hold their fellow senators.
McConnell’s rebuke of Warren was unwarranted, but his concern for civil discourse and democratic norms is not at all misguided. Just misplaced.
--Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman
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