Senate Rule 19, and the stupidity thereof:
I wrote this on Facebook a moment ago, and it deserves to be preserved somewhere a little less noisy.
After finally having time to watch the whole debacle with Elizabeth Warren, Mitch McConnell, and Senate Rule 19, it's abundantly clear to me that rule 19 is stupid! In Modern English, which a rule written over 100 years ago does not resemble, it says that senators are not allowed to suggest that other senators have motives inappropriate to being a senator. It doesn't matter if the phrasing is polite, or supported by evidence, or anything else. It is apparently an article of faith that those who have managed to get themselves elected to the senate are beyond reproach, which is a strange thing to take on faith these days! The only thing the rule seems to get right is that you can't get out of it by quoting someone else and arguing that "I didn't actually say those nasty things about a senator, 'my friend' said those things."
However, there are severe problems with this, and obvious reasons why until now it has almost never been invoked! The rule came into existence after an incident in 1902 when one senator accused another of "treachery, corruption, and improper influence." The accused senator entered the chamber (he had not been present at first), counter-accused the other guy of telling "willful and malicious lies" about him, a fistfight erupted between the two of them, and they had to be pulled apart, complete with stray punches landing on several noncombatants. So this rule was put into place, apparently to forbid tempting other senators to violence, because for some reason that's better than making a rule that you shouldn't punch out your fellow senators?
Now here's where it really gets weird. The rule does not say that you can not "impugn" a sitting senator, despite the fact that that's what Warren was called for. It states that you can not "impute motives or conduct unbecoming" a senator. Impute means to assign or ascribe, which makes sense when we are talking about conduct unbecoming. Rule 19 states that a senator can not state that another senator has done or intended things a senator shouldn't do, which is dangerously close to "thou shalt not criticize." However, McConnell's accusation was of "impugning", which is different. Impugn is to insult, especially to do so in such a way as to incite the accused to attack you. That's not my exaggeration; the word comes from the Latin root shared with pugilist and pugnacious, so it really does mean "incite into punching me!" Basically, it's another variant of the poorly defined Fighting Words that are speech not protected by the first amendment. Elizabeth Warren was not, by any measurement, impugning Mr Sessions by reading criticism of him.
Does that make a difference in whether she should have been banished from the podium? In all honesty, probably not. By a strict reading of the rule, even though Mitch McConnell called it incorrectly, Warren was imputing motives inappropriate to a senator, but when the evidence supports such a statement no one should be forbidden from voicing it. No, what's even more telling is the fact that three or four MALE senators were allowed to read the exact same letter from Mrs King, including the passages that got Warren silenced, without consequences. Mitch McConnell should be ashamed of his chauvinist self, as should the rest of the Republicans who voted with him, although I'm sure they are not.