Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash

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A push to rename a Senate office building after the late Sen. (R-Ariz.) is facing political headwinds on Capitol Hill from Republican lawmakers.

Sens. (D-N.Y.) and (R-Ariz.) are working on a resolution that would rename the Russell Senate Office Building, named in honor of former Democratic Sen. Richard Brevard Russell (Ga.), after McCain.

But the proposal is facing skepticism, and in some cases outright opposition, threatening to inject partisan fighting into the chamber’s bipartisan mourning.

“Senator Russell was a well respected man from the South and up here too,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Treasury rules target blue-state workarounds to tax law | Senate approves sweeping defense, domestic spending bill | US imposes B in tariffs on Chinese goods | Panel narrowly approves consumer bureau pick Paul seeks to cut off Planned Parenthood funds via massive spending bill This week: Senate tries to avoid landmines on massive spending bill MORE (R-Ala.), adding that he was “a man of his time.”

“He was a well-respected senator,” Shelby said.

Russell is considered controversial because of his opposition to civil rights legislation.

Shelby noted that if reporters were going to judge Russell on his civil rights stance then they would also need to reevaluate the Founding Fathers.

“If you want to get into that you have to get into George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and all of our – most of our Founding Fathers, maybe with the exception of Hamilton,” he said. “It’s easy to prejudge what they should have done.”

Shelby was one of several Southern GOP senators who pushed back on the idea of taking Russell’s name off the Senate office building.

Georgia Sen. David Perdue – a Republican and close ally of Trump – touted Russell’s Senate work, saying on Tuesday that he was a “stalwart” of the military and involved in the Great Society, referring to the domestic program of former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“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. (R-La.) told reporters that he would prefer to “find another way” to honor McCain.

“What I don’t want is to establish a precedent so that something named after John McCain is named after somebody else in the future,” Cassidy said.

The GOP pushback is the latest sign that what had emerged as a bipartisan idea in the immediate wake of McCain’s death is already losing momentum in the Senate, where McCain served for more than three decades.

Senate Majority Leader (R-Ky.) demurred on Monday when asked if he supports renaming the building after McCain.

He announced on Tuesday that he would create a bipartisan “gang” to make a decision on how the Senate honors McCain.

“The Senate is eager to work on concrete ways to … provide a lasting tribute to this American hero long after this week’s observances are complete,” McConnell said.

But he did not include renaming Russell among the possible options, instead using his Senate floor speech to highlight possibly renaming the Armed Services Committee room or hanging a McCain portrait in a room off the Senate floor.

Perdue said he supported McConnell’s decision to form a committee and that it was “premature” to discuss renaming Russell, one of three Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill.

“I’m predisposed to say that renaming that building is a serious issue, but I believe right now it is even premature to talk about that,” he said when asked if he would support renaming the building if that is what the panel recommends.

Sen. (R-Ga.) said McConnell’s panel was a “great idea” but declined to comment on Schumer’s resolution. Sen. (R-S.D), asked if he would support renaming the building, pointed to the process set up by McConnell.

“Well, I’m very much in favor of honoring Senator McCain,” Thune said. “How we do that exactly is something I think is something that we’re going to have a conversation about.”

Molly Hooper contributed.