February 9, 2017

Some historical background on the Senate's Rule 19 (which was used to shut up Elizabeth Warren the other day).

From Robert A. Caro,  "Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III" (pages 92-93):
Courtesy and courtliness were characteristics of the southern aristocracy— and of the Senate, where these traits were not only esteemed but were reinforced by the body’s rules. The rules imposed a verbal impersonality on debate to ensure civility and formality. All remarks made on the floor were required to be addressed not directly to another senator but to “Mr. President” (the presiding officer at the time)— a device that functioned as a psychological barrier between antagonists. Senators speaking on the floor were also required to refer to each other only by title, a device which placed the emphasis on the office rather than the individual (“If I may venture to offer a reply to the distinguished senior Senator from North Dakota”) and was therefore, as a Senate historian notes, “a safeguard against asperities in debate and personalities of all kinds.”
Referring to another senator by name— or by any form of the second person— was forbidden. “There is but one ‘You’ in the Chamber, and that is the Presiding Officer,” Senator George Hoar had said in 1909. “ ‘You’ can never under any circumstances be applied to an individual senator.” During the 1940s, as a Senate observer wrote, addressing a fellow senator in the second person was still “almost an unforgivable sin. It must always be in the third person.” Using exaggeration to make his point, Alben Barkley of Kentucky advised a freshman, “If you think a colleague is stupid, refer to him as ‘the able, learned and distinguished senator,’ but if you know he is stupid, refer to him as ‘the very able, learned and distinguished senator.” The Senate rule— Rule 19— against “asperities” applied not only to individuals (“No Senator in debate shall directly or indirectly, by any form of words, impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator”) but to states (“No Senator in debate shall refer offensively to any State of the Union”). It was out of order not only for a senator to attack a colleague, but even to read on the floor an attack by someone else— a newspaper article or letter, for example; “when such matter by inadvertence has been read, by direction of the Senate, it has been expunged from the record,” says the Senate historian. And should a senator violate that edict, not only the senator attacked but any other senator, or the presiding officer, could call him to order, and “when a Senator shall be called to order” under Rule 19, “he shall sit down”— at once, without another word—“ and not proceed without leave of the Senate,” leave which could only be granted by formal motion. And, says another historian, “To be called to order under Rule 19 was considered a disgrace then [during the 1940s and ’50s]. Your colleagues wouldn’t meet your eyes. You were in disgrace.” The decorum that characterized the floor of the United States Senate at mid-century was difficult even to imagine at the century’s end. So thoroughly had southern influence brought to the Senate floor the flavor— the graciousness, the formality, the civility (right down to a gift for “gracefully waving away mere political differences with an opponent”)— of the Southland that, in the words of Russell Baker, writing in 1961, the Senate’s manner was “as elaborately courteous as a Savannah lawyer’s.”

56 comments:

Dr Weevil said...

Is anyone surprised that a man named 'George Hoar' very much preferred to be addressed by title, not by name? His early schooldays must have been miserable, at least outside the classroom.

Lyssa said...

Thank you for that, I've been trying to wrap my head around this issue (to the extent that it's even an issue, of which I'm skeptical). Is it possible that we've never had a contentious hearing about the appointment of a sitting senator before? It seems like there should be some precedent for this sort of thing.

MartyH said...

No "civility bullshit" tag???

traditionalguy said...

Politics ain't beanbag, but it is a war mandated to use outwardly friendly weapons.

Ironically, that Methodist Church style is the briar patch in which the combatant Jeff Sessions was raised. The Massachusetts Supremacists be damned.

David Ermer said...

Caro's books on LBJ are extremely long. The first and third (cite here) are well worth reading. It's hard to believe that he died at 64.

surfed said...

Here in the South we are a polite society. But much of that has been lost in the last 50 years especially with the advent of television. Belying that polite graciousness Congressman Preston Brookes took cane to Massachusetts' Senator Charles Sumner who verbally attacked by name Preston's cousin the Senator from South Carolina Andrew Butler from the floor of the Senate. Senator Butler was not present at the moment of Sumner's speech. Though a polite people we do have our limits with seething disrepectful Massachusetts blowhards if not to cane then certainly to censure.

MadisonMan said...

Rules don't apply to Senator Warren.

They don't apply to Hillary either -- but thankfully, the country grew tired of the way Hillary could ignore rules with no consequences.

rehajm said...

Places where there's no Rule 19.

John said...

Surfed beat me to it but it seems to me that the caning was probably a violation of the rules of decorum. Possibly deserved, but a violation nonetheless.

I think the rule on addressing the president and on the "My learned colleague..." and so on come from the English House of Commons (and Lords?) where all remarks must be addressed to the speaker and members are not addressed by name.

It's been a few years since I read Master of the Senate but I remember it as being very good and detailed (perhaps 100 pages or so) about the nuts and bolts of how the Senate works. Lots of info on the filibuster too. I should probably buy the Kindle edition. I have the book but can't stand reading physical books anymore.

I am a big fan of Caro's series on LBJ.

John Henry

Comanche Voter said...

Oddly enough, if you break enough rules, there are consequences. Hillary found out--twice.

As for Senator Liawatha, she is nasty no talent prevaricating sharp tongued witch---Bless Her Heart. For her sharp hot tongue, the rest of the Senate gave her the cold shoulder.

Fritz said...

They should have caned her instead.

Jim said...

Wow! The ways of the White Man must seem strange to our Indian Princess.

AllenS said...

That was great, Jim.

Ann Althouse said...

"No "civility bullshit" tag???"

Yeah, I thought about it...

I will add it.

Bill Harshaw said...

re Surfed: I believe the rule may have been put in place after Sen. Tillman had an engagement with another southern senator.

Michael K said...

The introduction of women as Senators would surely alter the rules of courteous address to colleagues.

Senator Warren was merely following the law that rules do not apply to women unless they want them to.

She is a nasty piece of work although nice looking for her age,

She is under water in Mass with voters. I wonder if this is part of a campaign to drum up support among the crazy left, so common in Mass.

Ann Althouse said...

"Caro's books on LBJ are extremely long. The first and third (cite here) are well worth reading. It's hard to believe that he died at 64."

All 4 books are extremely worth reading and even rereading. And I eagerly await book 5. I've mostly used the audiobook version, which is read by one of my favorite readers (whose version of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" accompanied me on walks all over Madison one summer).

The second book is the least noticed, but as a political lesson it's my favorite. If you are interested in how to cheat in the voting process, it's the best.

surfed said...

@Bill Harshaw: you are correct sir re: Senator Ben Tillman from South Carolina. I wasn't referencing when the procedural rule was adopted. I was referencing disrepectful Senators from Massachusetts and the limits of Southern forbearance to slights, slanders and calumimity from the floor of the Senate. Is it something in the water of Massachusetts or the water of South Carolina?

Hagar said...

Parliament has the same rules for the same reason: No fisticuffs on the floor and no duels outside.

Scott McGlasson said...

Could be worse. Warren could have been slammed for a Rule 34 violation and nobody wants to see that. No exceptions.

Larry J said...

Warren is using her grandstanding in the Senate hearings in fundraising newsletters. She also had a book released yesterday. Lieawatha is all about the money.

John said...

Ann,

Agree with you about book 2 and cheating the election though I still like Book 3 better. What is often missed is that the famous stolen election was not a federal or even a state election.

It was the Texas Democrat Party primary to determine who would be the party's candidate for Senate in 1948.

Different rules and laws applied than if it had been the actual Senatorial election.

In Texas at the time, the Demmies had a lock on politics so whoever won the primary was assured of winning the actual election.

John Henry

stever said...

She can do no wrong and don't pick on her!

John said...

I read that Mitch McConnell calling her out on the rule violation was planned.

Supposedly McConnell wants to elevate her visibility as the face of the Democrat party. Not because she is not loathesome but because she is and people see her that way.

He wants people thinking Warren = Democrat Party and Democrat Party = Warren.

John Henry

Mike Sylwester said...

This rule is hard on Elizabeth Warren, a character assassin.

Brando said...

Open it up and let it fly. Only civility rule on Senate floor is you can't physically assault another Senator. Unless they get mouthy and refuse a challenge to a duel.

Then we can start selecting Senators based on their ability to wield a sword.

Balfegor said...

McConnell's move was sort of a lawyerly procedural trick -- correct as far as the words of the rule go, but not really in keeping with the spirit of the rule. Like using budget reconciliation to pass a gigantic substantive bill. Lawyerly, not statesmanlike.

It does remind me, though, of the incident from Lord Salisbury's time in the Commons (which I am sure to get wrong) -- I think he accused one of his colleagues of lying, and compared him to a lawyer. This was a serious breach of the rules, so he was prevailed upon to get up and apologise, whereupon he apologised to the lawyers for the comparison. Unfortunately, googling does not get me the exact anecdote because I keep getting the incident later in his career where he compared Lord Derby to Titus Oates, famous perjurer.

surfed said...

Duelling as a problem solving and argument settling device is under rated and much missed. And that brilliant drunk Hamilton certainly had it coming. Or said Gore Vidal.

PoNyman said...

I clicked on this particular post just to see if the 'civility bullshit' tag had been included in the tags list. It seems proper tag for this post if the article is true, what a long run for some civility bullshit. I wonder what those Southern Senators in the 50s calling for civility were trying to hide from. Ahhhh, those beautiful, beautiful 50s. That past is so bright/I have to where rose-colored shades.

MountainMan said...

Hagar said: "Parliament has the same rules for the same reason: No fisticuffs on the floor and no duels outside."

If you will look closely the next time a session of the House of Commons is broadcast on TV you will notice in the green carpet on the floor there is a broad red line on each side of the House just a few feet in front each bench. These lines were put in several hundred years ago with a rule that a member during debate could not cross over the line. The distance between the lines is such that if a member stood at the line on each side with drawn swords the distance was so far that the sword blades would not touch. It is from these lines drawn on the floor to ensure no sword fights that we got the expression to "toe the line."

David53 said...

"The second book is the least noticed, but as a political lesson it's my favorite. If you are interested in how to cheat in the voting process, it's the best."

Yes, The Duke of Duval County, George Parr, handed LBJ the primary election. That "win" helped pave the way for LBJ to become President.

Robert Cook said...

I like that word "asperity."

traditionalguy said...

DJT was just on FOX News signing an appointment Order for Sessions as AG, and then Pence swore him in. Somewhere in the background a band played Dixie and Trump doodled Confederate Battle Flags on the Order. The base loved it.

tcrosse said...

Now Warren is being sold as the poor, downtrodden Everywomen, told to sit down and shut up by all those awful men, and soon to be on a book tour.

Henrie said...

"Rules don't apply to Senator Warren."

Rules apparently don't apply to Cruz either, when he called McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

Henrie said...

So, when a Senator is being evaluated for AG, it's not proper to read a letter regarding voting rights? The use of rule 19 against Warren was nothing more than censoring her for political purposes. Rule 19 was not used on Ted Cruz, that pretty much proves that decorum wasn't that important when a male Republican engaged in it.

jono39 said...

I thought it was not possible to go lower after Teddy Kennedy was elected Senator. But Massachusetts, my home state, is still at it. I am no defender of Trump's mania to blow off constantly. He needs to sleep more and relax a bit. But Elizabeth Warren? A liar and total fraud.

Michael K said...

Rule 19 was not used on Ted Cruz, that pretty much proves that decorum wasn't that important when a male Republican engaged in it.



Man ! The DNC seminar must just have let out !

Welcome, troll.

JPS said...

Henrie,

"Rule 19 was not used on Ted Cruz, that pretty much proves that decorum wasn't that important when a male Republican engaged in it."

So you have one example of a woman being called out on these grounds, one example of a man not being called out on these grounds, and to you that "pretty much proves" sexism? That's some airtight reasoning right there.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

What's different in Elizabeth Warren's case is that Jeff Sessions was the legitimate subject of the debate over his nomination to be Attorney General. It's quite ridiculous for the Senate to say she can't debate whether he is a bad person for the job.

Hagar said...

You can insult your fellow members, but you must follow the rules when doing it.
Churchill was very good at this; Cherokee Liz isn't.

Big Mike said...

Republican leadership wants Warren to be the visible face of the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton and other members of the Democrat establishment wanted Trump to be the visible face of the Republicans.

If the former works as well as the latter, I hope there's a different result.

Balfegor said...

re: jono39:

But Elizabeth Warren? A liar and total fraud.

You know, I don't really agree. Certainly, the tenuous claim of native American ancestry is a bit comical, and I've read persuasive criticisms of her work on medical bankruptcy. But she's different from, say, Obama, in that she was actually a legal scholar, not just a part time lecturer in the legal faculty. She did actual, serious research -- practical research (even if it was flawed) -- on important subjects. Sure she seems to have been biased, but so what? Academics are human: they're always biased about their areas of specialty. That's why they publish, and academics with different biases publish critiques and so on, and there is healthy debate. At least in theory (in practice, it is not perhaps quite such a rigorous process).

So anyhow, even if I disagree with pretty much all her policy positions, and find her a bit comical, I don't think Massachusetts should be embarrassed about her at all.

Dan Hossley said...

There is no need for progressive Senators to disparage their conservative colleagues on the floor of the Senate. They have NYT, WaPo, CNN to do it for them.

Dan Hossley said...

There is no need for progressive Senators to disparage their conservative colleagues on the floor of the Senate. They have NYT, WaPo, CNN to do it for them.

rehajm said...

Supposedly McConnell wants to elevate her visibility as the face of the Democrat party. Not because she is not loathesome but because she is and people see her that way.

He wants people thinking Warren = Democrat Party and Democrat Party = Warren.


She's a GOP twofer: the post JFK era O-for-ever record of Massachusetts Presidential candidates with the warmth, likability and scandalness of a Coakley/Hillary style shrew.

Seeing Red said...

Also privileged and a leech.

Mark said...

But it's just fine to shout 'you lie' at the President when he is addressing both houses.

Decorum for me, but not for thee.

Seeing Red said...

Awww, Coretta Scott King thanked Jeff Sessions for the Rosa Park Library?

Seeing Red said...

Rosa Parks.

caudlehs said...

This is so nice how when we're discussing decorum and being polite to each other, that it's a crap-fest on Warren's head with one insult after another. I don't agree with Warren on a single thing policy-wise, but I'll take her over your good ol' white boy BS.

Balfegor said...

Re: caudlehs:

I'll take her over your good ol' white boy BS.

Now see -- I might have been with you if you'd left it at "BS," but tossing in "white boy" there just tells me you're a dirty racist.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Brando said...
Open it up and let it fly. Only civility rule on Senate floor is you can't physically assault another Senator. Unless they get mouthy and refuse a challenge to a duel.


Sure, as soon as the Democrat gets to cane the Republican, no backsies.

Is that legit? Was a new rule made? Incidentally, not only was Sumner caned to within an inch of his life, but when a colleague of his went to help, a colleague of Brooks' pulled a pistol and said, Let them be.


Bring back duelling, on or off the Senate floor.

FIDO said...

Dear Mark,

You said:

But it's just fine to shout 'you lie' at the President when he is addressing both houses.

Decorum for me, but not for thee.


This is a rather poor argument to be making for several reasons.

1) Perjury is illegal in the witness box in a court of law. No one is allowed to directly lie IN COURT. You are, however, allowed to lie in any other context. (Until, of course, Democrats decided that Democratic Presidents should be allowed to commit perjury)

Warren (follow me here) IN THE SENATE violated the rules. If she did it on the Senate steps to her pet reporters, she would have been within acceptable behavior. She was not.

The gentleman in question

a) wasn't a Senator

b) Wasn't bound by the SPECIFIC RULES OF THE SENATE

c) like Warren, he WAS formally rebuked by the House of Representatives



2) Obama was a singularly uncivil president


3) He was very prone to lies.

4) It is rich for a party who has worked hard to upend 'civility' to suddenly wrap themselves in it's protections. Obama GOT his cabinet. Trump...not so much. Much foot dragging abounds

So try to make more factual and intellectually consistent arguments in the future.

Zach said...

To be called to order under Rule 19 was considered a disgrace then [during the 1940s and ’50s]. Your colleagues wouldn’t meet your eyes. You were in disgrace.

Much as I admire the thought, this style of thinking is badly out of fashion these days. In fact, there's a special term of abuse for it, tone policing, brought to you by the people who invented mansplaining.

Unbelievable as it may seem, there is a school of thought that holds the biggest problem with our public discourse today is that people feel too inhibited from freaking out and melting down in public.

JAORE said...

"Unbelievable as it may seem, there is a school of thought that holds the biggest problem with our public discourse today is that people feel too inhibited from freaking out and melting down in public."

Must be one of those failing public schools.