Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash

A push to rename a Senate office building after the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) is facing political headwinds on Capitol Hill from Republican lawmakers.

Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal Coulter mocks Kavanaugh accuser: She'll only testify 'from a ski lift' Poll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it MORE (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.

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"Senator Russell was a well respected man from the South and up here too,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyTrump signs first 'minibus' spending package for 2019 Congress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown Senate approves first 2019 spending package 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. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOvernight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop Overnight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE (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 Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week GOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal MORE (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.

Spokespeople for McConnell didn't respond to a request for comment about whether they were given a heads-up before Schumer said on Saturday, shortly after McCain's death was announced, that he would try to rename the Senate office building.

Flake said he and McConnell were discussing the issue. Schumer directed questions to the Senate GOP leader when he was asked about McConnell's support on Monday.

Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t know why some Republicans were reluctant to endorse his idea.

"I think it's the most appropriate way to honor Senator McCain,” he said. “And we're going to work to try and see that that can get done in a bipartisan way."

Flake and Schumer are circulating a "dear colleague" letter asking senators to support the resolution. They have not publicly specified when they would introduce the proposal.

"Renaming the Russell building in his honor ensures that his story will be told with the hope that inspiration becomes motivation and future leaders emerge with his brand of courage and commitment," Flake and Schumer wrote in the letter to their Senate colleagues.

The idea has bipartisan support from Democrats, as well as some Republicans.

Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingRestoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash MORE (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, joked on CNN that when he was a Senate staffer people affectionately referred to Russell “as the old SOB."

"And I can’t imagine a more appropriate place to put John McCain’s name," he said on Tuesday.

GOP Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (Tenn.) — who, like McCain, was critical of Trump on foreign policy — told reporters that he was open to "whatever" to honor McCain.

"Whatever it is appropriate," Corker told reporters, throwing up his arms when asked specifically about renaming Russell. "I'm up for whatever."

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Kim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' MORE (S.C.), a close friend of McCain's, joked with reporters that he would rename the Capitol, the Capitol Visitors Center and the Pentagon after McCain if he could, before acknowledging he wanted to get feedback from McCain's family.

"I'd name the Capitol after him, if I could," he told reporters. "But I don't know, I want to talk to Cindy and see what they think."

Several GOP senators pointed on Tuesday to McConnell's decision to form a committee as the best path forward.

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. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash GOP senator warns Trump: Anyone who trash-talks McCain 'deserves a whipping' MORE (R-Ga.) said McConnell’s panel was a “great idea” but declined to comment on Schumer’s resolution. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches MORE (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.

Updated at 5:06 p.m.