An angry Elizabeth Warren is a nuisance to Republicans, but a martyred Elizabeth Warren may be an even bigger threat. So politically it was unwise for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to silence Warren Tuesday night during debate over attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, even if she did technically flout Senate rules.

That the sanction came over Warren’s reading of a letter from Coretta Scott King critical of Sessions on racial issues only added fuel to the fire.

But let’s cut through the faux outrage, here. Warren was begging for an overreaction from Republicans, who took the bait she has been laying for months.

Last September on the floor of the Senate Warren essentially accused her Republican colleagues of racism during debate over a stopgap spending bill. Funding for the Flint, Mich., water crisis was not in the bill (it was being addressed separately) which for Warren’s purposes amounted to racially motivated discrimination.

In December, again on the Senate floor, she accused Republicans backing the 21st Century Cures Act of selling government favors in exchange for campaign contributions, calling them corrupt. (She also said in that speech that Democrats who supported the bill were giving in to extortion; every one of her Democratic colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation supported the bill.)

McConnell had clearly had enough of the senator’s antics, and after Warren on Tuesday evening read King’s 30-year-old assertion that Sessions is racist (after being warned about a rule against maligning another senator), Warren temporarily lost her speaking privileges.

That ruling launched a thousand internet memes about censorship, the unfair treatment of a female member of Congress (It’s so confusing: Is Warren a hero to progressives here, or a helpless victim?), and the suppression of the words of a civil rights heroine. Warren’s dramatic reading of King’s letter outside the Senate chamber drew millions of views on Facebook.

Neither Warren’s speech nor her rebuke changed a single vote. But she’ll raise a lot of money and sell a lot of books. In fact, earlier Tuesday Warren’s publisher had announced her latest book, promising “candid accounts of her battles in the Senate.” This conveniently manufactured “battle” will probably get its own chapter.


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