In February, a viral video was born when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to let Sen. Elizabeth Warren finish reading a letter from Coretta Scott King opposing Jeff Sessions on the Senate floor. Relations between the Republican leader and liberal firebrand apparently haven't improved since then: In an interview with the Boston Globe, Warren said McConnell supposedly won't even talk to her when they pass each other in the Senate halls.
“I’ve spoken to him, but he has not spoken to me,” Warren said of her recent encounters with the majority leader. “I say hello to Mitch every chance I get, and he turns his head.” The Globe added that Warren was "laughing in a disbelieving way, shaking her head" as she said this. Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman, said he couldn't give much feedback on Warren's allegation because he's never personally witnessed the two interacting whatsoever, The Huffington Post reported. “I’ve never witnessed that and have never seen her approach him so I’m afraid I can’t be much help,” he explained.
The incident between the two senators unfolded in February, when the Senate was holding confirmation hearings regarding the nomination of then-Senator Jeff Sessions to lead the Justice Department. Warren read aloud a letter that King had written strongly opposing Sessions in 1986, who was at that point a prosecutor being considered for a federal judgeship.
However, McConnell cut Warren off while she was reading the letter and refused to let her finish, explaining that she had "impugned the motives and conduct" of a fellow senator. This is a violation of Senate rules, because questioning another fellow senator's motives is, by definition, improper and invalid.
Sessions was ultimately confirmed, but McConnell's silencing of Warren backfired. The video went viral almost immediately, which had the effect of amplifying, not stifling, the words King wrote about Sessions all those decades ago. Moreover, the whole incident had patriarchal overtones— which were amplified a day later, when no fewer than four male senators were allowed to read parts of the same letter on the Senate floor without interruption.
McConnell's attempts to explain himself only made matters worse. He said that Warren "was warned" but that "nevertheless, she persisted." Those last three words were instantly appropriated and used as a rallying cry against sexism — hardly what McConnell had had in mind when he uttered the phrase.
In totality, McConnell's actions seem rather petulant. First, he invoked an arcane Senate rule in order to prevent Warren from reading a letter that was already a matter of public record. Then, after being publicly criticized for his actions, he allegedly responded by refusing to engage with Warren in passing.
More broadly, the contention between Warren and McConnell is a microcosm of just how starkly polarized the U.S. political process is at this moment in time. Policy disagreements notwithstanding, Democrats and Republicans are traditionally able to maintain at least a modicum of civility in their in-person interactions. Now, as Warren claims, they're barely speaking with each other.