Lawmakers mourn the loss of Mandela

Lawmakers across the political spectrum mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela on Thursday and paid tribute to his life and legacy.

Statements from leaders and backbenchers alike eulogized the South Africa giant, focusing on his global standing as a symbol of justice and freedom.

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“In a way, Mandela was both the 'George Washington' and 'Abraham Lincoln' of his country,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “We're so fortunate to have lived in his time.”

His Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), called Mandela “one of the great statesmen of our time and a global symbol of reconciliation.” 

“ ‘Madiba’s’ patience through imprisonment and insistence on unity over vengeance in the delicate period in which he served stand as a permanent reminder to the world of the value of perseverance and the positive influence one good man or woman can have over the course of human affairs,” McConnell said. “The world mourns this great leader. May his passing lead to a deeper commitment to reconciliation around the world.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called him an “unrelenting voice for democracy” who “showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity.” 

“His perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations,” Boehner said. “Mandela led his countrymen through times of epic change with a quiet moral authority that directed his own path from prisoner to president. He passes this world as a champion of peace and racial harmony.”

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) embraced his “legacy of love and partnership.”

“Nelson Mandela once said that ‘courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,’ ” she said. “His life is the affirmation of this statement: a story of courage, a triumph over fear, a whole-hearted faith in the power, promise, and possibility of the human spirit. He inspired the world with his strength and perseverance, with his message of hope and his embrace of freedom.”

Lawmakers of various political stripes drew different conclusions about Mandela's legacy. 

“Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a Tea Party favorite and potential 2016 presidential candidate.

Others chose to remember his work on behalf of the poor.

“I hope we can take this period of mourning to reflect on the powerful lessons Nelson Mandela has taught us,” said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). “We must honor his life by renewing our dedication to social justice, equality, and freedom for all peoples.”

Mandela, said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), fought not jut for racial equality but also “gender equality, the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, the uplift of poor and underdeveloped communities.”

Still others celebrated his commitment to human rights. 

“State and federal lawmakers across the U.S. looked to Mandela as an inspiration when crafting laws that mandated divestment from South Africa’s cruel Apartheid regime,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "I had the privilege of serving as Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates when we passed such legislation.”

Many spoke of a personal connection to the South African giant.

“In my work with the South African Council of Churches in the 1980s, I saw firsthand the terrible cruelty and fundamental injustice of an apartheid system that attempted to determine the destiny of South Africans based on the color of their skin,” said Senate Foreign Relations Africa panel Chairman Chris Coons (D-Del.).

“Nelson Mandela refused to accept the destiny that was handed to him, and instead led a movement to remake South Africa into a flourishing, multiracial democracy.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Africa panel, called his fight for freedom a “personal inspiration.”

“I joined countless other Americans in fighting for his freedom and for ending apartheid in South Africa,” she said. “I visited Robben Island and saw the 8-by-7-foot cell he lived in. In the 1970s and 1980s, President Mandela’s example taught me that although the struggle for social and economic justice might take many years, it was my responsibility to continue that fight, and if he could keep his focus on these values, then I certainly can also.”

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