Hold off on new stationery: Senators balk at naming building for McCain

Mourners left an Navy officer’s cap and flowers on the steps of the Russell Senate Office Building Monday, two days after the death of Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Navy veteran show Senate office was in the building. Some senators are pushing a plan to rename the building in honor of McCain. (Photo by Ian Solomon/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Senators agree that they need to find some way to honor the legacy of Arizona Sen. John McCain, but this is Washington – there has to be a committee first.

A proposal by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, quickly backed by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, calls for renaming the Russell Senate Office Building for McCain, who long had his offices there.

But some Republicans balked Tuesday and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he was caught unawares by the renaming proposal, said he will appoint a committee to consider the matter

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“I was not notified in advance of the suggestion the minority leader had, but the way we have approached this sort of thing in the past has been on a purely bipartisan basis,” McConnell said Tuesday after the Senate Republicans weekly policy lunch.

McConnell said he plans to name a bipartisan committee to explore options on the best way to honor the six-term Arizona senator. That committee likely will not meet until after Labor Day, he said.

Schumer said he did not know why some Republicans might not support the renaming proposal, which was made formal in a “dear colleague” letter from the New York Democrat and from Flake, an Arizona Republican, that went out Tuesday morning.

McCain, who died on Saturday at age 81 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer, had his office in the building named for Sen. Richard Russell, a Georgia Democrat who served in the Senate from the 1930s to the early 1970s.

-Cronkite News video by Lillian Donahue

But during that time, Russell was known as a staunch opponent of the Civil Rights movement and a leader of Southern opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to his biography on the Senate’s website. It noted that while he crafted a national school lunch act, he also co-wrote “The Southern Manifesto,” a 1956 document opposing racial integration.

That alone was enough for some senators to support a name change.

“I don’t believe a segregationist senator, even from my own party, and I’m glad that we don’t have segregationists in our party … I don’t think he should have his name on the building,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

But Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said the best way to honor McCain would be to follow regular Senate order.

“While John McCain always wanted to get things done, he also wanted to get things done in a regular order so that everybody has considered what the options might be,” Blunt said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, was among McCain’s closest friends in the chamber and said he would “name the Capitol after him, if I could.” But he stressed that any proposal should be run past McCain’s family first.

“I don’t know, I want to talk to Cindy (McCain) and see what they think,” Graham said.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, said above all he hoped any decision to honor McCain would be made in a bipartisan manner.

“The only thing I’m certain of at this point is that we need to do something appropriate and we need to do it together, we don’t need to have a fight over it,” Kennedy said. “John would not have wanted that.”

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