Day: February 8, 2017

Silence is eloquent

The Senate Republicans silenced Elizabeth Warren last  night after she read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King that they viewed as impugning the reputation of Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration’s nominee for Attorney General. The letter and attached statement definitely do call into question Senator Sessions’ reputation and qualifications, based in part on his service as a US Attorney in Mobile, Alabama. That is apparently contrary to Senate rules, according to McConnell, even though examining reputation and qualifications is obviously an important to advising and consenting (or not) to the nomination.

Why all this sensitivity about a more than 30-year-old letter? The problem is this: the letter cites Sessions’ efforts to “intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens….Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”

That is precisely what President Trump has set out to inspire by claiming that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in last November’s presidential contest. It is also what Republicans nationwide have been trying to do for years by adopting unjustified voter identification laws, closing polling places, gerrymandering Congressional districts, and encouraging unqualified “poll watchers.” The only difference 30 years have made is that the target is no longer limited to elderly black voters but now includes young ones, Hispanics, and immigrants of all sorts. These efforts are well-documented in court cases throughout the country, many of which the Republicans have lost.

Silencing Warren has attracted far more attention than allowing her to complete her statement. McConnell should have anticipated that, but whether he did is unclear.

What difference does all this make to foreign policy, international affairs, or war and peace, which are the subjects of In short, the effort to suppress voting is inconsistent with American values and interests, both of which the US government spends a good deal of time, money, and effort promoting abroad. If the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress, and Republican-controlled states continue in this direction, the United States will have no credibility at all in promoting democracy abroad.

That will trouble serious Republicans, but it is not going to bother Trump. He has no intention of promoting democracy at home or abroad. His executive order on immigration is intended to establish the broadest possible scope for presidential authority to protect national security, including non-fact based measures that deny individuals equal treatment under the law. As Nora Ellingsen puts it on Lawfare:

Since January 2015, the FBI has also arrested more anti-immigrant American citizens plotting violent attacks on Muslims within the U.S. than it has refugees, or former refugees, from any banned country.

If Trump wins on immigration, he’ll try to import the broad, irrational, and unequal application of presidential national security authority to the domestic scene.

That’s why Coretta Scott King’s aging letter is so problematic. It accuses Sessions, who will play a vital role in Trump’s administration as Attorney General, of doing precisely what the Trump administration intends to do: deny individual rights, created its own alternative facts, and use them to empower the President to do as he pleases, even if that means silencing critics like Elizabeth Warren.

Fortunately, silence is eloquent.

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