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Four days after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot down at the Lorraine Hotel in 1968, John Conyers, a young black congressman from Michigan, introduced a bill to memorialize the civil rights hero with a federal holiday.

The bill did not pass.

It actually took 15 years for the bill to get signed into law. And when it did, it was without the support of the following lawmakers who are still in the Congress and Senate. (New York published this list in 2013, when there were still eight.) Let's see how they explain this one.

Sen. Richard Shelby (Alabama)

Richard Shelby
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Shelby started off his political career as Democrat, but he voted against MLK Day as well as an extension of the Voting Rights Act.  He later went on to switch to the Republican Party.


Fusion reached out to Shelby’s office for comment on his vote, but did not hear back by time of publication.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa)

Chuck Grassley
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“Senator Grassley’s vote against an MLK Day holiday was purely an economic decision both in the cost to the broader economy in lost productivity, and the cost to the taxpayers with the federal government closed,” an aide to the senator recently told The Hill.

In 2004, Grassley also signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that honored King.

Sen. John McCain (Arizona)

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McCain made a formal apology for his bad vote during a visit to the Lorraine Hotel, where King was was shot and killed, on the anniversary of his death.


"I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona," said McCain. "We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans."

It should be noted that at the time he was running for president against Barack Obama.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah)

Orrin Hatch
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The senior senator from Utah—who is also the Republican party’s pro tempore —which means third in line for the presidency—voted against Martin Luther King Day.

But of all the lawmakers who botched the vote, Hatch has been one of the most vocal apologizers.

"One of the worst decisions I have made as a senator was my vote against making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday,” he wrote in a book published in 2007.

"What I failed to realize at the time was that this holiday was more than just celebrating the life of one man. Dr. King represented the courage, conviction, and dedication of millions throughout America who had sacrificed themselves and even their lives for racial freedom in America."

Hatch ran for president in 2000 but lost the nomination to George W. Bush.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin)

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Sensenbrenner—who is the chairman of the House’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations—voted against the legislation, too.


Ironically, last year Sensebrenner reintroduced key parts of the Voting Rights Act alongside Rep. John Conyers, the man who first introduced an MLK Day bill back in 1968.

Fusion reached out to Rep. Sensebrenner's office for comment about his MLK Day vote but did not hear back by time of publication.

Rep. Hal Rogers (Kentucky)

Hal Rogers
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Fusion reached out to Rogers for comment about his decision to vote against the federal holiday but did not hear back by time of publication.


Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.