GOP gives Elizabeth Warren a boost as Dems seize on 'silencing' theme

At most, Elizabeth Warren would have gotten a paragraph on an inside page.

Now the chattering classes are all chattering about her.

The Massachusetts senator was on MSNBC yesterday, deflecting questions about running for president in 2020.

All thanks to Mitch McConnell.

By silencing her on the Senate floor, McConnell did more than shine a white-hot spotlight on her argument against Jeff Sessions as the nominee for attorney general. He elevated Warren to the leader of the Democratic opposition, and practically rebranded her as The Woman Who Would Not Be Silenced.

Warren, as you probably know, was delivering a floor statement against Sessions and had just finished quoting from a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King. In opposing his unsuccessful nomination to a federal judgeship, the civil rights leader’s widow wrote that Sessions, as a prosecutor, had tried “to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”

McConnell invoked a rule that prevents senators from disparaging their fellow lawmakers. When Warren persisted, the majority leader engineered a party-line vote that stripped her of the right to speak on the Sessions nomination.

The tactic was a bit puzzling, since there was no question that Sessions would be easily confirmed, as he was last night. As a shrewd tactician, McConnell had to know that his move would mushroom into a huge story. And Warren had to know that if she kept reading the letter, she would lose the parliamentary battle.

I can only conclude that McConnell saw an advantage in making Warren the face of the opposing party. Her anti-Wall Street populism makes her enormously popular in the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party, but she may be viewed as a strident or divisive voice among Republicans. It might help McConnell and company paint the Democratic attacks on Trump nominees as purely ideological.

But Warren is seizing the moment. “They can shut me up, but they can’t change the truth,” she told CNN.

No less a figure than Hillary Clinton weighed in on Twitter, citing McConnell’s rationale:

"'She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.' So must we all.”

And the media love the story line:

USA Today: “She did it again. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has often energized her liberal base with her take-no-prisoners attitude, found herself in a familiar position on the Senate floor Tuesday: fighting back against congressional Republicans.” This was followed by a recounting of her greatest hits.

CNN says the takedown of Warren “backfired”:

“The Senate has silenced Elizabeth Warren. And by doing so, majority Republicans just handed the liberal firebrand a megaphone -- further elevating President Donald Trump's fiercest and most prominent critic in the Senate and turning her into a Democratic hero.”

I happen to think the anti-disparagement rule should be suspended when a senator is nominated for a high government office. In any event, it’s violated all the time through carefully worded attacks on “my good friend” or “the distinguished gentleman.”

I’ve wondered what would have happened if Warren had run for president in 2016. She certainly would have been attacked as anti-business and weak on foreign policy. But her profile as a Democratic force just got a whole lot higher.

Oh, and she’ll probably sell a few more copies of her forthcoming book, “A Fighting Chance.”