WASHINGTON — Democrats searching for a new rallying cry might have Senate Republicans to thank for their newest line: “She persists.”
In the hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans voted to prohibit Sen. Elizabeth Warren from speaking on the Senate floor, the Massachusetts senator took full advantage of what she knew was a moment that had energized the left — giving new momentum to protest movements like the national women’s marches that recently swept major US cities.
Warren had been debating Tuesday night the qualifications of her Senate colleague, Jeff Sessions, to be President Donald Trump’s attorney general, when she was cut off.
She then walked off the floor of the Senate right into a Facebook Live session on her official government account, where she read in full the 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., against Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship at the time. Sixteen hours later, the video had been viewed more than 8 million times.
Warren quickly called into Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC and then spoke with CNN’s Don Lemon late Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, Warren went through another round of interviews.
Even the line McConnell used to explain why Warren had been found in violation of a rule against impugning fellow senators — “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted” — has become an Internet meme.
The party’s campaign arms used Warren’s comments and McConnell’s tactics in fundraising solicitations. Warren’s House and Senate colleagues pointed to the optics of a man from the South silencing a woman, while men who followed her were able to read the letter uninterrupted.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Warren had begun her criticism of Sessions by reading from the 1986 comments of Sen. Ted Kennedy, a liberal icon.
“I guess if a man says it, you don’t get the words taken out. If a woman says it, you probably do,” Pelosi said.
Emily’s List, which raises money for Democratic candidates, released a new video titled “She Persists” Wednesday afternoon, highlighting Senate Democratic women grilling Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
“Mitch McConnell saw last night what we’ve known for a long time — that when you try to silence Elizabeth Warren, you’d better believe she won’t back down,” said Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock.
For the left, Warren’s defiance captures some of the energy that’s been roiling since women’s marches swept major cities protesting Trump’s inauguration last month.
On Twitter, #LetLizSpeak immediately trended, and on Wednesday, the trending hashtag was #ShePersisted.
All around her, the Democratic base rallied — ignoring the possibility that McConnell, a shrewd Senate strategist, was intentionally elevating Warren to become the face of Democrats’ Trump opposition out of a belief her appeal beyond the liberal base is limited.
For Republicans, the decision to silence Warren carries the benefit of making the already controversial vote to confirm Sessions more about the Massachusetts senator and McConnell’s actions, potentially taking some of the heat off the nominee.
Republicans knew the Alabama senator had been grilled during his confirmation hearings by Democrats, who also regularly criticized him on social media and at public events. When Republican leaders stepped in to cut Warren off, they did it part because they feared more Democrats were about to take the floor, GOP leadership aides told CNN.
Warren’s moment carried power on the left in part because it united elements of a party that has been split — largely by the Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders 2016 Democratic presidential primary — for a long time.
Both Clinton and Sanders weighed in, supporting Warren.
Clinton cited McConnell’s comment that Warren “persisted” and added: “So must we all.”
Sanders tweeted that Warren was criticized by Republicans because of her gender, writing: “When I read the same letter as @SenWarren, no one prevented me from speaking. Sen. McConnell owes Sen. Warren an apology. #LetLizSpeak”
Sanders also played up the moment on the Senate floor.
“I want the American people to make a decision whether or not we should be able to look at Sen. Sessions’ record and be able to hear from one of the heroines of the civil rights movement,” he said.
When asked by CNN if she deserved an apology, Warren turned it back on the Senate majority leader.
“This is up to Sen. McConnell,” Warren said. “He’s the one who shut me up.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Manu Raju contributed to this report.
By Eric Bradner