Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was cut off by Republican senators Tuesday as she questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the latest high-profile Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in its investigation into Russian election interference.
Harris, a former prosecutor, employs a rapid-fire questioning pace more commonly seen in courtrooms — a style that at times has her interrupting witnesses, which is frowned upon in the Senate, where decorum is still prized. But the moments were notable as the second time in a week that Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent and is the only minority woman on the committee, was interrupted by two male colleagues during a hearing.
Last Wednesday, Harris was interrupted by Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as she tried to question the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein. On Tuesday, the two again interjected as she questioned Sessions over his role as campaign surrogate for President Donald Trump and contact with Russian officials.
“I’m not able to be rushed this fast,” a visibly flustered Sessions said to Harris at one point. “It makes me nervous.”
When Harris then pressed Sessions on a Justice Department policy he cited as his rationale for not answering questions, McCain spoke up.
“Chairman,” McCain said, “the witness should be allowed to answer the question.”
Burr responded: “Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing. Senator Harris, let him answer.”
Several observers saw a case of sexism, and some suggested possible racial undertones.
Why do Republican senators only interrupt when Kamala Harris is asking questions? A black woman can't question a white attorney general? pic.twitter.com/0zD59hVH7E
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) June 13, 2017
Apparently, taking tough questions from a woman is unsettling to the poor AG's spirit. https://t.co/aQyuOSmiC0
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) June 13, 2017
Twice Kamala Harris is the ONLY senator being directed to let a witness answer, despite other sen's talking over them as well. #Mansplaining
— R Levinson-Waldman (@RachelBLevinson) June 13, 2017
Supporters of Harris compared the episode to the exchange last week, when Burr and McCain admonished her for not affording Rosenstein the time to answer a question.
Harris was asking whether Rosenstein would give unlimited authority to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed in May to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, when Burr and McCain interjected.
“The chair is going to exercise the right to allow the witnesses to answer the question, and the committee is on notice to provide the witnesses the courtesy — which has not been extended all the way across — extend the courtesy for questions to get answered,” Burr said at the time.
Asked to comment on Tuesday’s exchanges, a spokesman for Harris pointed to her Twitter account: “It’s unacceptable that Sessions — the top law enforcement official in the country — cannot name his legal basis for evading questions,” she wrote.
Democratic senators and left-leaning supporters have pounced on the opportunity to argue against these high-drama exchanges, often turning them into Twitter gold.
lol Kamala Harris' wikipedia bio already up to date pic.twitter.com/BCevYsMBft
— Mark Byrne (@markwby) June 13, 2017
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., endured the spotlight in February when she was cut off by a Republican: “Silencing @SenKamalaHarris for not being ‘courteous’ enough is just unbelievable,” Warren tweeted last Wednesday. “Keep fighting, Kamala! #NeverthelessShePersisted”
This time, a male colleague, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., spoke up.
“Again, @SenKamalaHarris was doing her job,” Wyden wrote on Tuesday. “She was interrupted for asking tough questions. I was not interrupted.”
Later on Tuesday night, Harris sent another Twitter missive: “The women of the United States Senate will not be silenced when seeking the truth,” she wrote, before asking her supporters to donate.
Here is a partial transcript of Harris’ exchange with Sessions.
HARRIS: “Is that policy in writing somewhere?”
SESSIONS: “I think so.”
HARRIS: “So did you not consult it before you came before this committee knowing we would ask you questions about that?”
SESSIONS: “Well, we talked about it. The policy is based …”
HARRIS: “Did you ask that it would be shown to you?”
SESSIONS: “The policy is based on the principle that the president …”
HARRIS: “Sir, I’m not asking about the principle. I am asking, when you knew 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 you refusing to answer the majority of questions that have been asked of you?”
McCAIN: “Chairman, the witness should be allowed to answer the question.”
BURR: “Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing. Senator Harris, let him answer.”