Elizabeth Warren said to 'Impugn' Jeff Sessions

'The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague'

Impugn spiked on February 7, 2017, when the Senate voted on party lines to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was reading a letter written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King about Senator Jeff Sessions in opposition to Sessions’s nomination as attorney general. Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell said:

The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.

Impugn means “to oppose or attack as false or lacking integrity” or “to criticize (a person’s character, intentions, etc.) by suggesting that someone is not honest and should not be trusted.” It comes from the Latin word pugnare meaning “to fight,” which is also the root of pugnacious and pugilism.

Senate Rule XIX was invoked in the unusual move to silence Warren, force her to take her seat, and prevent her from speaking during the confirmation vote for Sessions. Rule XIX in fact does not use the word impugn but the word impute in section 2:

  1. No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.

Impute is not related to impugn etymologically. It means “to say or suggest that someone is guilty of (something)” and comes from the Latin verb meaning “to think” or “to consider.”

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