A sharply divided US Senate barrelled towards a final vote on US President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general today, capping an ugly partisan fight and revealing how deep the discord has grown between Republicans and Democrats at the dawn of Trump's presidency.
Following an unusually tense conflict on the Senate floor, the chamber is scheduled to vote on the fate of Senator Jeff Sessions, whose record on civil and voting rights as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general have long been criticised.
Sessions is expected to win confirmation narrowly and largely along party lines - and primarily on the strength of his relationships with fellow Republican senators.
But the expected victory for Trump comes after a bruising confirmation process for Sessions and other Cabinet nominees, which Democrats have used to amplify their concerns about the President's agenda even as they have fallen short, so far, of derailing any nominees.
These proxy battles have generated friction in the traditionally cordial upper chamber, which flared up yesterday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuked Senator Elizabeth Warren, accusing her breaking a Senate rule against imputing a fellow senator's character and blocking her from speaking for the remainder of the Sessions debate.
In doing so, McConnell asserted his control over a chamber that is increasingly at risk of veering from normal protocol. But he also sparked a dramatic backlash, with accusations of sexism and selective use of an obscure Senate rule bouncing around social media for much of today.
Democratic criticized McConnell, particularly for this statement lyesterday: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
Outside of the Senate, liberals gleefully thanked McConnell for elevating Warren, one of the Democratic Party's biggest stars, and handing her a slogan for a potential 2020 presidential bid.
"I think Leader McConnell owes Senator Warren an apology," said Senator Bernie Sanders in a Senate floor speech today. He and other Democrats were particularly chagrined that a Senate rule could be invoked to prevent a member from criticising someone who is up for confirmation before the body.
Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: "Rules against criticizing other Senators cannot apply when you are DEBATING THE NOMINATION OF A SENATOR!"
The flare-up began as Warren attempted to read a statement by Coretta Scott King, the late widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King in opposition to Sessions' 1986 nomination for a slot as a federal district court judge. The letter accused Sessions of using his role at the time as a US Attorney to undermine voting rights.
"Mr Sessions has used the awesome power of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters," King wrote.
Several Democrats took to the Senate floor to re-read a portion of that statement in solidarity with Warren.
"Still banned from floor, but spoke w/ civil rights leaders this AM to say: Coretta Scott King will not be silenced," Warren told her more than 1.8 million followers on Twitter today.
Since Elizabeth Warren was cut off Tuesday night, her speech has rallied Senate Democrats and ricocheted on social media and in the press. pic.twitter.com/awIvEKT6EF— Vox (@voxdotcom) February 8, 2017
Republicans were not happy with Warren's actions. In an interview on Fox News, Senator Ted Cruz accused his Democratic colleague of advancing false claims about Sessions and sought to remind Americans that southern Democrats were "the party of the Ku Klux Klan" and spearheaded segregation laws decades ago.
"The Democrats are angry and they're out of their minds. ... They're just foaming at the mouth practically," Cruz said.
Cruz once called McConnell a liar on the Senate floor, and he was not rebuked.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer argued that Republicans were being hypocritical. They had no qualms about silencing Warren, he argued, even as they have declined to rebuke Trump for aggressively lobbing insults at his critics.
"My Republican colleagues can hardly summon a note of disapproval for an Administration that insults a federal judge, tells the news media to shut up, offhandedly threatens a legislator's career and seems to invent new dimensions of falsehood each and every day," Schumer said. "I hope that this anti-free speech attitude is not traveling down Pennsylvania Ave. to our great chamber."