Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced on Wednesday that he plans to renew his push to name a Senate office building in honor of the late Sen. John McCain.
The announcement comes as several Republican senators are speaking out in defense of McCain’s legacy in the wake of a fresh round of attacks by President Donald Trump directed at the Arizona senator who died last year after a battle with brain cancer.
Schumer said that he is planning to re-introduce legislation to re-name the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain, describing him as an “American hero.”
“I look forward to soon re-introducing my legislation re-naming the Senate Russell Building after American hero, Senator John McCain,” Schumer wrote in a tweet.
The Senate Democratic leader originally proposed the idea of re-naming the Senate office building in memory of the late senator, who was beloved by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, shortly after McCain’s death in August 2018.
At that time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not commit to renaming Russell for McCain, saying the Senate should consider many options, including potentially naming a committee room used by the Senate Armed Services Committee after him, as McCain was the chairman of the committee.
In late August, McConnell announced that he would appoint a bipartisan committee – referred to as a “gang” – to make recommendations on how to commemorate the late senator’s legacy. McConnell’s office has not yet responded to a CNN request for comment this week as to whether the committee had ever been appointed and, if so, what work it has done so far to move toward the goal to memorialize McCain.
Schumer’s office plans to move on their resolution soon, but did not indicate an exact timeline for introduction. With Democrats in the minority, Schumer’s office continues working to reach out to Senate Republicans to get support for the measure.
The Senate office building that Schumer is proposing to re-name is currently named for Richard B. Russell, a former Democratic senator from Georgia who served from 1933 to 1971.
Mixed reaction from Republicans to idea of re-naming building
GOP leaders insisted at the time of McCain’s passing that they want to honor his more than three-decades long legacy in the Senate in a serious way. But many Republicans cautioned then that it was too soon to decide exactly how to commemorate his service and Schumer’s proposal met with mixed reaction, including some pushback, from GOP lawmakers.
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue defended the building’s current namesake after Schumer initially raised the idea.
“This was an icon in the United States Senate. He was Lyndon Johnson’s close adviser. They did the Great Society together. So, people would criticize Richard Russell for maybe being on the wrong side of the integration movement, but my goodness he turned around and got the school lunch program done. He did that himself,” Perdue said at the time. Russell was a segregationist who was opposed to the Civil Rights Act.
Around the same time, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said he would not be in support of renaming the building after McCain because he did not want to create a precedent for renaming institutions that already honor someone’s memory.
“This is a question of making sure that however John is honored, it’s set in stone that John is always honored,” Cassidy said. “I don’t want to establish a precedent where somebody is unhonored in the future.”
Other Republican senators, however, indicated they would back the proposal.
Then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who is now retired from the Senate, said at the time that he thought renaming the Russell office building would be a good idea.
“I would be glad to do that. I think, you know, Russell was a powerhouse here but most people don’t know who he was. And McCain? McCain was a hero whether you liked some of his approach is or not. I liked them and I’d be for that,” Hatch said.
Others, like McCain’s longtime best friend in the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham also proposed naming the Capitol Visitor’s Center, within the Capitol complex, after him.
“I’d name the Capitol after him, if I could,” Graham told reporters last year, noting though that an important piece of this was the McCain family’s input in how they wanted to see McCain memorialized.
Former Sen. Jeff Flake, who co-sponsored Schumer’s resolution to rename the building back when he was still in office, retweeted Schumer’s tweet Wednesday.
“It would be a fitting tribute to John McCain,” Flake wrote in his retweet. “Kudos to Senator Schumer for reintroducing it.”
Lawmakers defend McCain after latest criticism from Trump
A number of Senate Republicans, including Mitt Romney, Martha McSally and Graham, have spoken out in recent days in defense of McCain after the President once again targeted him for criticism.
McCain was a frequent critic of the President while he was alive and the President often lashed out at the senator, once famously saying that McCain – a Vietnam war veteran who was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years – was not a war hero.
In one tweet over the weekend, the President attacked McCain for opposing a Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, describing it as a “stain” against the late senator.
“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” Romney tweeted on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson called the President’s criticism of McCain “deplorable.”
“It’s deplorable what he said,” Isakson told Georgia Public Broadcasting on Wednesday afternoon when asked about a series of critical comments Trump has made about McCain. “That’s what I said on the floor of the Senate seven months ago. It will be deplorable seven months from now if he says it again and I will continue to speak out,” he said.
CNN’s Lauren Fox and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.