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Clinton, other Democrats rally around silenced U.S. Senator Warren
















By Doina Chiacu and Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton and other Democrats on Wednesday flocked to support U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren for voicing criticism of President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general even after being silenced by Republicans on the Senate floor.

Republican senators voted on Tuesday evening to end Warren's reading of a letter written 30 years ago by Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow that criticized Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee to lead the Justice Department, for his civil rights record.

Warren then went to the hallway where she continued to read the letter for a Facebook video that had drawn over 8 million views as of Wednesday afternoon.

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In a rare public comment since losing the presidential election to Trump on Nov. 8, Clinton posted on Twitter a link to Warren's video and a quote from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that was originally meant as a rebuke.

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." Clinton quoted McConnell as saying. "So must we all," Clinton added.

The Senate action prompted a tide of support on Facebook for Warren, a darling of the political left, under a hashtag #LetLizSpeak.

McConnell's quote "nevertheless she persisted," went viral online among Warren supporters.

The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday cleared the way for confirming Sessions as attorney general. A final vote was expected Wednesday evening.

THE LETTER

Sessions had "used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens" when he prosecuted voting fraud as U.S. attorney in Alabama, according to the letter read by Warren, from Massachusetts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut her off, saying that she broke a Senate rule that "impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama." Senators voted 49-43 to silence Warren, seen by some Democrats as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

While Warren was stopped before she finished reading the letter, others, including rising Democratic star Senator Kamala Harris of California took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to read it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reminded reporters that the late Senator Ted Kennedy called Sessions disgraceful in 1986 but he was not rebuked.

"I guess if a man says it you don’t get the words taken from you," Pelosi said in Baltimore.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said silencing speech is "not what America is about."

Warren has been a fiery critic of Trump since he launched his presidential campaign. Democrats have expressed concern about Sessions' record on race, immigration and criminal justice reform.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said Warren's move was part of an attempt by Democrats frustrated at Trump's win to obstruct business in the Senate.

“The Democrats are angry and they’re out of their minds. You know we’re seeing in the Senate, the Senate Democrats objecting to every single thing – they’re boycotting committee meetings, they’re refusing to show up," he said.

Many civil rights and immigration groups also have concerns about Sessions with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) saying his positions on gay rights, capital punishment, abortion rights and presidential authority in times of war should be examined.

Sessions was a federal prosecutor in 1986 when he became only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation as a federal judge. This came after allegations that he had made racist remarks, including testimony that he had called an African-American prosecutor "boy," an allegation Sessions denied.

Sessions said at his hearing in 1986 that groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the ACLU could be considered "un-American." He also acknowledged he had called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation."

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington, Emily Stephenson in Baltimore and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alistair Bell)