Following the death of Sen. John McCain on Saturday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer made this proposal to honor him:
The “Russell” is Richard B. Russell Jr., a former longtime senator from Georgia who served as a mentor to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was also a virulent racist. This is from Russell’s official Senate biography:
As the leader of the Senate’s “southern bloc,” Russell often used his parliamentary skills to oppose civil rights legislation, including bills to ban lynching and to abolish the poll tax. In 1956 he co-authored the “Southern Manifesto” to oppose racial desegregation, and he led southern senators in their opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
With a legacy like this, who wouldn’t want to scrub his name off of one of the key halls of power in the United States government? Southern GOP senators, that’s who!
Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, the two current senators from Georgia, were not big fans of the idea and wanted the Senate to slow down on the idea:
“I think right now what we have is an opportunity to honor John McCain in the right way,” Perdue said. “So unless somebody presents a case that I’m not aware of, I will resist that.”
Isakson said Monday that it was too early to weigh in on the proposal to rename the building out of which both he and Perdue work.
“It’s not time to talk about it,” he said. “We owe it to the McCain family to talk about John McCain and his contributions to the country and not anything else, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Perdue apparently went even further than this today, according to multiple reports:
Ah yes, the “big champion” of things that “failed,” such as the Great Society, and not...his opposition to civil rights legislation.
It wasn’t just senators from Russell’s home state, though, who got offended on his behalf. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, also waded into the debate in an interview with Roll Call:
“I’m a Southerner,” Shelby said.“Russell was a man of his time, OK?”
“If you want to get into that, you have to get into George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and all of our Founding Fathers — most of our Founding Fathers, maybe with the exception of Hamilton,” said Shelby, referring to the fact that so many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves.
“You know, it’s easy to prejudge what they should have done. We didn’t live in that era. I’m glad I wasn’t there,” he added.
Schumer probably should have seen all of this coming, given how quick Republicans have been to rally around Confederate monuments. And so far, it looks like the opposition is working: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that he’ll form a “bipartisan committee” to study how to honor McCain.
If he’s lucky, maybe he’ll even get his own day, something that neither McCain nor Shelby thought Martin Luther King Jr. should have in 1983.