Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is new to the US Senate, but she’s a veteran when it comes to seeking justice. Before Harris was elected to the Senate, she served two terms as San Francisco’s District Attorney. After that, she became the first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General, a position she held for six years.
In Congress, Harris serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is currently holding hearings focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Her prosecutorial background makes her no stranger to the format of the hearings – each senator on the committee gets several minutes to press the witness for answers to their questions.
However, Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and John McCain (R-AZ) both broke protocol to interrupt Harris while she held the floor during two separate hearings. First, they interrupted her as she questioned Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. A few days later, they cut her off as she pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for answers. In both hearings, Harris was the only senator who was interrupted.
During Rosenstein’s testimony, Harris asked a yes-no question – would Rosenstein give the Special Counsel full independence from the Justice Department during his Russia probe? As reported by The Washington Post, Rosenstein and Harris went back and forth. Rosenstein wanted to give a lengthy response and Harris wanted a “yes or no” answer.
Harris stated, “Either you are willing to do that or you are not.” McCain cut Harris off in her interrogation to say that the witness should be allowed to answer the question, and Burr agreed. Harris never got the direct answer she was looking for.
The following Tuesday, Harris was put in a similar situation when she questioned Sessions. Throughout the testimony, Sessions refused to answer questions, claiming a longstanding DOJ policy that permitted his behavior. Harris asked if that policy was written down, and Sessions didn’t answer her. He opted to explain the “principle” of the policy.
Harris elaborated, “Sir, I am not asking you about the principle. I am asking – when you knew that you would be asked these questions and you would rely on that policy, did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for your refusing to answer the majority of questions we are asking you…” That’s as far as she got before McCain and Burr interjected. Yet again, she didn’t get a proper answer to her question.
In the news, a former Trump campaign adviser called Harris’ behavior “hysterical,” a term traditionally reserved for women, which has misogynistic roots in women’s psychology. The adviser denied that Harris’ questions were legitimate, implying that the senator was overreacting without reason.
Though Harris wasn’t the only senator resolute in pressing witnesses for answers, she was the only senator who was called “hysterical.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had a comparable dialogue with Sessions which went completely uninterrupted.
For some reason, Harris’ fellow senators felt it was appropriate to interrupt her. Women across the country have been speaking up, saying that they believe the male senators felt some gender bias which entitled them to interrupt and dismiss their female colleague. Tanzina Vega, a CNN reporter who covers race-related issues, called out to women of color (WOC) when she tweeted “WOC understand what Kamala Harris is dealing with. Raise your hand if you’ve been shushed, silenced, scolded etc.” Her words were retweeted over 2,000 times and liked over 3,000 times.
When Harris was silenced, women got louder, telling the public that women experience this disrespect in their everyday lives. Still, they will not be quiet, no matter who tries to interrupt them.
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