THE MORNING PLUM:
Social media is aflame with the news that Senate Republicans voted Tuesday night to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from speaking out about attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, after Warren had the temerity to read aloud from a letter by the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. that castigated Sessions’s history on voting rights. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended the move by claiming that Warren had “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.”
Unfortunately, while this episode has all kinds of symbolic importance, and while it will and should serve as a major rallying cry for Democrats going forward, one key takeaway here must be that it constitutes a brutal reality check for Democrats about the long and difficult slog they face in the near future.
To be sure, the crackdown on Warren has already backfired in significant ways for Republicans. It is already drawing more attention to Coretta Scott King’s remarks about Sessions than Warren or Democrats could ever dreamed would happen. Warren read the full letter outside the Senate chamber, which was a great gesture. As Warren put it: “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”
Indeed, McConnell’s suggestion that Warren had impugned Sessions’s motives and conduct — which he buttressed by reading aloud King’s words — implicitly conceded that Coretta Scott King had impugned Sessions’ motives and conduct, and that this must not be given a hearing on the Senate floor. The message all of this sends about Sessions and the GOP on civil rights is awful for Republicans.
But the point is, Republicans don’t care what message this sends. And herein lies the way in which this whole episode captures the unsettling broader reality that Democrats face right now. Warren was shut down from speaking by Republicans who employed an arcane Senate rule; Democrats are shut out of power, and Republicans will use any and all procedural means at their disposal to render them as powerless and irrelevant as possible. And Republicans see no reason to fear any political repercussions from whatever message any of it sends.
Republicans pocketed a Supreme Court seat that was President Obama’s to fill and will now likely get their choice of justice installed in it. If Democrats filibuster that choice, or filibuster the next justice Trump picks, Republicans will likely nuke the Senate rules and blow past Democratic opposition. Republicans are totally abdicating any meaningful oversight role toward Trump, despite his unprecedented conflicts of interest and possible corruption, and they are unlikely to pursue independent probes into Russian meddling in our election, making it less substantially likely that the public will ever be fully informed about these things. Republicans have clearly signaled they will do everything they can to prevent other institutional watchdogs from exercising any oversight of their own. This will only get worse.
The outpouring of anger that greeted the muzzling of Warren constituted another sign of the grass-roots energy among Democrats that is arising in response to Trump and his GOP, and that could matter a lot going forward. But Democrats are nonetheless likely to lose a lot of fights to come. The confirmation Tuesday of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, after an intense grass-roots-driven campaign from Democrats, is a hint of more defeat and despair ahead. Indeed, no matter what the public thinks about the GOP effort to keep King’s thoughts about Sessions quiet, Republicans will likely get him installed as attorney general before long.
The question is what will happen to the spirit among Democrats amid more demoralizing losses — and once it sinks in that the nonstop awfulness of Trump isn’t going away, which itself could exacerbate the demoralization. Indeed, Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg tells me that Democratic lawmakers confide they are already worrying about this problem, based on what they are seeing back home. “It is clear that Democrats on the Hill are acutely aware of their challenge,” Rosenberg says. “They have very little power to block Trump, yet they are getting a clear message from their partisans back home that they expect results.”
This is not to say that Republicans can’t be defeated in important ways. Trump and Republicans may be backing off their vow to scrap protections for people brought here illegally as children. Republicans are running into massive trouble with their push to repeal and replace Obamacare, and Democrats have effectively drawn attention to Republicans’ bumbling, incompetence and shrugging lack of concern for how repeal would harm millions. It’s not hard to see GOP efforts to roll back financial oversight going down to defeat. The opposition to Trump’s immigration ban has effectively dramatized the cruel realities of Trumpism and may, at a minimum, dissuade Trump from trying more policies like it. And so on.
But Democrats are going to be shut up. They are going to be shut out. They are going to lose. A lot. And it’s going to be dispiriting and difficult. The response to this particular Warren episode has thus far been innovative and energetic. The question is whether this kind of energy can be sustained.
* SILENCING OF WARREN MAY HAVE BACKFIRED: The New York Times observes this about the bid by Senate Republicans to silence Sen. Warren:
Within hours of being shut down on the Senate floor, Ms. Warren read the letter from Mrs. King on Facebook, attracting more than two million views — an audience she would have been unlikely to match on C-Span, if she had been permitted to continue speaking in the chamber.
But Republicans seem to have excited a whole lot of conservatives by shutting Warren up, so it’s probably all good from their perspective.
* ONLINE OUTCRY GREETS SILENCING OF WARREN: The Post account adds this:
Public reaction quickly intensified online. RedBubble.com, an online clothing website for independent designers, began selling a “She Persisted” T-shirt or sweatshirt — seizing on McConnell’s admonition of Warren. Democrats began using #LetLizSpeak on Twitter and posted copies of King’s letter on Facebook to draw more attention to Warren’s speech.
Yes, but how long can this be sustained?
* GOVERNMENT LAWYER GRILLED ON TRAVEL BAN: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard arguments over whether to lift the hold on Trump’s immigration ban, and Bloomberg reports that many of the tough questions from the judges were directed at government lawyer August Flentje:
They posed dozens of questions on Trump’s authority to issue the order, and on the government’s contention that states have no right to sue over the matter. They also pressed Flentje for evidence the seven countries covered by the ban are particular sources for potential terrorism.
Another question: Whether judges will decide that Trump’s ban is discriminatory in intent. A decision is expected this week, after which the battle over the ban’s immediate fate goes to the Supreme Court.
* DEMOCRATS WANT THEIR LEADERS TO FIGHT HARD: A new Politico-Morning Consult poll finds:
Just 34 percent of Democratic voters want their party’s elected officials to find ways to work with the new president. A 56-percent majority say Democrats in Congress should stick to their principles, even “if that means blocking all legislation or nominees for government posts.”
It’s a reminder of just how much pressure Democratic lawmakers are under to do everything they can to halt block Trump.
* MITCH McCONNELL IS JUST FINE WITH TRUMP SO FAR: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells Carl Hulse that everything is going just swimmingly:
“No matter what sort of theatrics that go on around the administration, if you look at the decisions that are being made, they are solid — from our perspective — right-of-center things that we would have hoped a new Republican president would have done….during the campaign, there were a lot of questions: Is Trump really a conservative?…But if you look at the steps that have been taken so far, looks good to me.”
Translation: Trump will go along with our tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of Wall Street and shredding of the safety net, so really, why should we care in the least about his unprecedented conflicts of interest and naked displays of authoritarianism?
* TRUMP DISSEMBLES ABOUT ‘SANCTUARY CITIES': Trump has taken to saying that “sanctuary cities,” which generally refrain from cooperating with federal deportation forces, “breed crime.” Michelle Lee takes a close look at the research on the topic and concludes:
The research that does exist, including one study published by advocates of immigration, challenges Trump’s claim. These studies either found no statistically significant impact of sanctuary policies on crime, or a reduction in crime due to immigrant-friendly policing strategies….Trump goes too far declaring that the cities “breed crime.” He not only makes a correlation, but also ascribes a causation, without facts to support either.
“Alternative facts” are particularly useful when it comes to tarring undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals.
* AND THE TRUMP TWEET OF THE DAY, BLAME-THE-JUDGES EDITION: Good morning, Mr. President:
If the U.S. does not win this case as it so obviously should, we can never have the security and safety to which we are entitled. Politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017
This is only the latest of many tweets that appear designed to lay the groundwork to blame the judiciary for any terrorist attack that might occur.