Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash

A push to rename a Senate office building after the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Graham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.) is facing political headwinds on Capitol Hill from Republican lawmakers.

Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump ahead of New Hampshire speech: Lewandowski would be 'fantastic' senator MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress 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 ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects 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 CassidyI'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Washington takes historic step forward on paid parental leave The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 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 McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report 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 KingNew intel chief inherits host of challenges Senators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings Top Democrat: 'Disqualifying' if Trump intel pick padded his résumé 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 CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' 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 GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan 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 IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Ga.) said McConnell’s panel was a “great idea” but declined to comment on Schumer’s resolution. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects 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.