Lawmakers set for tearful goodbye to John Lewis

Lawmakers set for tearful goodbye to John Lewis
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers will begin to bid farewell on Monday to the late civil rights icon Rep. John LewisJohn LewisHillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Underwood takes over as chair of House cybersecurity panel Trump to pay respects to Ginsburg at Supreme Court MORE (D-Ga.) by granting him the rare honor of lying in state in the Capitol. 

The solemn remembrance of one of the most revered members of Congress will offer a brief reprieve from a recent series of markedly tense days on Capitol Hill, with Democrats calling foul after a GOP lawmaker used a sexist slur against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE (D-N.Y.) and slow progress on a coronavirus relief package when financial aid is already expiring for millions of people.

“It’s so interesting that he left us at this time,” said Rep. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyRep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair Hillicon Valley: Oracle confirms deal with TikTok to be 'trusted technology provider' | QAnon spreads across globe, shadowing COVID-19 | VA hit by data breach impacting 46,000 veterans House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats MORE (D-Ill.), who served with Lewis in the Congressional Black Caucus. “It’s almost like a reminder. You know, we’re giving this man so many accolades while we need to walk his talk, like he did.”

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“He was so patient and gracious and forgiving. And we need to be a little more like that,” said Kelly, who sported a mask emblazoned with Lewis’s motto of “good trouble.”

The opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects will be significantly different from previous ceremonies to honor other figures who have laid in state. Lewis’s casket will be displayed outdoors on the top of the steps on the east side of the Capitol so that people can walk past on the plaza while adhering to health guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement from Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi preparing for House to decide presidency if neither Trump or Biden win electoral college: report Trump seeks boost from seniors with 0 drug discount coupons GOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Senate Republican says lawmakers can't 'boil down' what a Court nominee would do in one case like Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Ky.) said that masks will be required to enter the line on the plaza and social distancing will be “strictly enforced.”

An arrival ceremony will be held early Monday afternoon around 1:30 p.m., at which point Lewis will begin to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The outdoor public viewing will begin at 6 p.m. and last through 10 p.m., and resume for another day on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Anyone wishing to pay their respects in the outdoor viewing line on either day will face peak Washington summer weather, with highs expected near 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a chance of thunderstorms. 

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The two most recent people to receive the honor of lying in state were the late Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBlack GOP candidate accuses Behar of wearing black face in heated interview Overnight Health Care: US won't join global coronavirus vaccine initiative | Federal panel lays out initial priorities for COVID-19 vaccine distribution | NIH panel: 'Insufficient data' to show treatment touted by Trump works House Oversight Democrats to subpoena AbbVie in drug pricing probe MORE (D-Md.) last October and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJill Biden shuts down Jake Tapper's question about husband's 'occasional gaffe' Crenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat Analysis: Biden victory, Democratic sweep would bring biggest boost to economy MORE (R-Ariz.) in August 2018. In both cases, there were people who traveled long distances to Washington and waited in line for hours to pay their respects.

This time, the Lewis family is advising against anyone traveling from outside the Washington area to come to the Capitol, given the pandemic.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE (D-Md.) nonetheless predicted that “thousands” will come to pay their respects.

“He will be honored by thousands who will walk by the Capitol and his casket. And that will be right,” Hoyer said in a House floor speech on Friday.

Maintenance workers were already making preparations in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday ahead of the ceremonies. Chairs for the invitation-only arrival ceremony were spaced six feet apart and black drapes hung from each of the entrances to the Rotunda.

The catafalque on which Lewis’s casket will rest holds special significance. The raised platform draped in black was first used in 1865 while former President Lincoln laid in state in the Capitol.

And 155 years later, it will be used to support the casket of a key figure in the civil rights movement who participated in sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington and the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala.

Lying in state in the Capitol will be just one stop as part of the nearly weeklong series of ceremonies to commemorate Lewis’s life.

On Sunday, Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma one last time with a procession along the route he and other civil rights marchers had originally planned from there to Montgomery in 1965 on what became “Bloody Sunday."

Lewis had suffered a skull fracture during the clash with state troopers. But the public outrage over the violence faced by Lewis and others at the scene ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) recalled how, during the fight over passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, he had been walking with Lewis when they faced protesters who hurled racial epithets at them.

Carson was inclined to fight back, but Lewis tried to keep it in perspective with what he faced during the civil rights movement.

“While my impulse was to probably respond and get baited into a discussion, he kept walking very calmly, very Zen-like to votes. And so that helped guide me and my usual inclination to go to war,” Carson said.

“A remarkable human being. I'm going to miss him,” he said.