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Nobody puts Elizabeth Warren in a corner

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke Wednesday on Capitol Hill about being rebuked by the Senate leadership and accused of impugning a fellow senator, Attorney General-designate, Senator Jeff Sessions.Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

There’s something about Elizabeth Warren that really bothers people — especially powerful men.

The senator from Massachusetts says what she thinks and never backs down. And that really gets under their skin.

As Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell put it when he explained his reason for invoking a rarely-imposed Senate rule to silence her Tuesday night: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless she persisted.”

In another time and place, he would have simply said that girls should be seen and not heard.

By now, McConnell should know that nobody puts Warren in a corner — although the men of Washington continue to try. After she was barred from further debate on the nomination of fellow Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, Warren stood outside the chamber, continued saying what got her in trouble, and streamed it live on Facebook.


For Donald Trump, saying what he believes, no matter how crude, rude, or politically incorrect, helped him win the White House. When Warren says what she thinks, she is described as shrill and unhinged. She also gets criticized for an unwillingness to compromise — or what some might call principle, applied in a bipartisan manner.

During the Obama administration’s struggles with the economic crisis, Warren disagreed vociferously with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as well as with President Obama. When she criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership — Obama’s now-abandoned trade agreement — the president’s dismissive answer illustrated Warren’s ability to irk men on both sides of the political aisle. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,’’ responded Obama. The answer was deemed sexist by some, but it barely registers when measured against the contemptuous attitude of Republican men.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Warren famously irked Trump. They engaged in frequent and furious Twitter warfare, during which he described her as “goofy” and called her “Pocahontas” — a reference to her unproven claim to Cherokee heritage. Despite Trump’s efforts to marginalize her, she didn’t retreat, telling him, among other things, to “put on your big boy pants” and calling him out for “creepy bullying.”


This week in the Senate, Warren was rebuked for impugning the reputation of Sessions. In what is considered a rare move, McConnell interrupted Warren’s reading of a decades-old letter written by the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. and said she had violated Senate rules.

After a roll call vote that broke along party lines, 49-43, with five female Republican senators voting to rebuke her, she was ultimately told to “take her seat” and barred from further debate on the Sessions nomination.

In other words, sit down and shut up.

Talk about a double standard. There was no rebuke last year when Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas described the “cancerous leadership” of Senator Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader. And Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was not rebuked when he called McConnell a “liar” on the Senate floor in July 2015.

Cruz wasn’t present for the Wednesday night vote to rebuke Warren because he was participating in a CNN debate with Bernie Sanders about the future of Obamacare. Still, he made sure to show his umbrage the next day, by complaining that in criticizing Sessions, Warren was “lashing out” at the American people because she’s angry about last November’s election results.


Politically, all this helps Warren. It fires up supporters on the left who were unhappy over her support for Hillary Clinton. It raises her already-high profile, just as her latest book, “This Fight Is Our Fight,” is due to be released. In the book, she takes on Trump and details “candid accounts of her battles in the Senate.”

With this rebuke, Warren already has a new chapter about power and gender and how she’s rewriting the script.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.