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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 LewisThis week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning Democrats hit crucial stretch as filibuster fight looms Advocates sound alarm as restrictive voting laws pile up 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-CortezThe Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers Overnight Energy: Update on Biden administration conservation goals | GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices | Push for nationwide electric vehicle charging stations 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 KellyHHS expands Medicaid postpartum coverage for Illinois mothers up to a year after giving birth Democrats spar over COVID-19 vaccine strategy Lawmakers emphasize prioritizing patients' needs in health care policy 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 PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Romney: Removing Cheney from House leadership will cost GOP election votes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections 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 CummingsOvernight Health Care: AstraZeneca may have included outdated data on vaccine trial, officials say | Pelosi says drug pricing measure under discussion for infrastructure package | Biden administration extends special ObamaCare enrollment until August Pelosi: Drug pricing measure under discussion for infrastructure package Bottom line MORE (D-Md.) last October and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women 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 HoyerCapitol Police watchdog back in spotlight amid security concerns On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month 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.