Honoring Sen. John McCain shouldn’t be seen as coming at the expense of someone else, but that’s how some Republicans are trying to spin it.
When Sen. John McCain died on Saturday, his longtime colleague Sen. Chuck Schumer (D – N.Y.) and McCain’s fellow senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, wasted no time in crafting a bill that would change the name of the capitol-adjacent Russell Senate Office Building to honor McCain. A clearly fitting tribute to a man who spent his life in service of America and Arizonans.
Within a day, some in the Senate began to push back on the idea, claiming former Sen. Richard Russell, whom the building is currently named after, was a great senator and his name shouldn’t be removed.
Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Al.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) both spoke up for the former senator who served from 1933 until his death in 1971.
“Senator Russell was a well respected man from the South and up here too,” said GOP Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), adding that he was “a man of his time.”
“He was a well-respected senator,” Shelby said.
“This is a guy who was a giant of the Senate,” Perdue said. “So this renaming thing because of one issue, you know, is somewhat troubling. The fact that it’s been brought into this John McCain thing I think is inappropriate.”
Sen. Russell, a Democrat from Georgia, is seen as a controversial figure in light of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. It’s not like his name is being ripped down as the equivalent of a Confederate statue. It should not be seen as a slight against Sen. Russell’s legacy.
Unlike monuments built for a specific person — i.e. the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial — buildings, like streets, are among the things meant to be renamed to reflect the times. The Senate office building exists regardless of whether Sen. Russell or Sen. McCain existed. The building, which opened in 1909, existed for over 60 years without the name Russell attached to it.
It’s worth noting that no one currently holding office as a U.S. Senator today was in office while Russell was there. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the current longest serving senator, wasn’t elected to the Senate until almost four years later.
Changing the name to honor someone else for a few decades should not be controversial. The alteration would reflect the most recent past of modern American history and as such, more meaningful to those who actually work there. At the same time, changing the name doesn’t have to be done while denigrating a man long dead or seen as stomping on his legacy.
In the end, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and his “gang” will ultimately come up with recommendations and proposals on how best to honor John McCain. If renaming the Russell Senate Office Building to the McCain Senate Office Building is one of them, one can only hope GOP senators currently sour on the idea will stop and reflect that it’s appropriate and fitting, and not a rejection of Richard Russell.
And, for Pete’s sake, let the president hold his tweeting fingers from chiming in on something in which he has no authority or business.