Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the investigation into contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
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.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks asks questions as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill June 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.
“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.
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.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.,, joined at left by Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, rear, orders Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to suspend her inquiry of top national security chiefs testifying on the gathering intelligence on foreign agents.
Democratic senators and left-leaning supporters have pounced on the opportunity to argue against these high-drama exchanges, often turning them into Twitter gold.
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.”