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Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash

A push to rename a Senate office building after the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit MORE (R-Ariz.) is facing political headwinds on Capitol Hill from Republican lawmakers.

Sens. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump 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 ShelbyOn The Money: Sanders: Democrats considering trillion spending package | Weekly jobless claims rise for first time since April Shelby signals GOP can accept Biden's .5T with more for defense Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior 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 CassidyBill CassidyPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle 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 McConnellPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Graham calls voting rights bill 'biggest power grab' in history The wild card that might save Democrats in the midterms 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 KingCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  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 GrahamBiden to host Afghan president at White House on Friday Portman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight 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 IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Loeffler group targets Democrats with billboards around baseball stadium Warnock raises nearly M since January victory MORE (R-Ga.) said McConnell’s panel was a “great idea” but declined to comment on Schumer’s resolution. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCongress barrels toward debt cliff Trump endorses Murkowski challenger Yellen: Disclosure of tax data to ProPublica a 'very serious situation' 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.