Texas Tech University

Expert: Confirmation Process Far From Over

Glenys Young

February 8, 2017


Joel Sievert is an expert on American political institutions, including Congress, the presidency, American political development and separation of powers.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was officially silenced by her Republican colleagues Tuesday evening (Feb. 7) during a contentious confirmation hearing for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. attorney general.

As part of the debate, Warren read a 1986 letter written by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, to the U.S. Senate's Committee on the Judiciary, in which King opposed Sessions' nomination as a federal district court judge for the southern district of Alabama. The letter reads, in part, "Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters."

Joel Sievert
Joel Sievert

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell objected under Rule XIX, which prohibits debating senators from ascribing "to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator."

Republicans forced Warren to stop speaking in a 49-43 party-line vote. She is now barred from speaking on the Senate floor until Sessions' confirmation hearing is finished. He is expected to be confirmed by a final vote this evening (Feb. 8).

The unexpected move launched a Democratic uproar on social media, including the creation of the hashtag #LetLizSpeak. Warren later read the full text of King's letter outside the Senate chamber on Facebook, attracting more than 2 million views.

This morning, Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, read King's entire letter and had it entered into the Senate record.

Joel Sievert, a visiting instructor in the Texas Tech University Department of Political Science, is an expert on American political institutions, including Congress, the presidency, American political development and separation of powers. He can discuss the confirmation process and what this now means for Warren and her role in it.


Joel Sievert, visiting instructor, (806) 834-4103 or joel.sievert@ttu.edu

Talking points

  • The country saw a historically close vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education on Tuesday (Feb. 7), with a 50-50 tie in the Senate broken by Vice President Mike Pence in the affirmative.
  • Several important confirmations remain after Sessions': Tom Price, nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary; Steven Mnuchin for Secretary of the Treasury; Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor; and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
  • On Monday (Feb. 6), Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, announced he would oppose Elliot Abrams should he be selected as the nominee for Deputy Secretary of State. Paul's opposition could lead to a difficult confirmation process if Abrams is selected for the position.
  • In addition to the confirmed and pending nominees, there are still nearly 660 positions for which no nominee has been announced.

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