The Jolt: Richard Russell’s political descendants oppose D.C. name change

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

The proposal to rename the Richard B. Russell Senate Office building in Washington has now drawn vocal opposition from nearly the entire bipartisan line of the late Georgia senator's political descendants.

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., sent out a letter to colleagues soliciting support for the name change. "Our strong belief is that future generations should know the story of Senator John McCain," the pair write. You can read the entire letter below – but note that it makes no reference to Russell as a member of the chamber, or his role as an arch-segregationist in the '50s and '60s. Neither Schumer nor Flake want to be seen as starting that fight:

We have not heard from David Gambrell, whom Gov. Jimmy Carter appointed to fill out Russell’s term after his 1971 death from emphysema. Gambrell was beaten out of a full six-year term by Sam Nunn the following year. On Tuesday, Nunn sent out a note arguing against the name change. It began like this:

"Richard Russell was a towering intellect with unrivaled leadership skills. Even when they disagreed passionately with his position, his Senate colleagues – Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal – had enormous respect for his integrity, his civility, and his dedication to our nation and to the Senate as a pillar of our constitutional structure. For these reasons, his fellow Senators voted 99-1 to name the Senate office building after him in 1972, the year after he died.

"Even those senators who opposed and denounced his position on civil rights joined their colleagues and others in supporting the naming of the Russell Senate Office Building, out of their great respect for Russell's leadership in protecting our nation's security for more than three decades…

"As Senator Edward Kennedy pointed out in his tribute at the time of Russell's death, 'through his effort, we now have a school lunch program, aid to farmers, far better education and highway construction.' The members of the Senate trusted Richard Russell."

This was Nunn’s closing argument, emphasis ours:

"With respect to renaming the Russell Building for Senator McCain, I believe that both of these Senate giants would call for "regular order," meaning the careful and thoughtful deliberation that is the hallmark of the Senate. Richard Russell was wrong on civil rights but made enormous contributions to America. I believe that we must continue to build on our achievements and learn from our serious mistakes, with equal opportunity for all of our citizens. I am confident that the Senate can find appropriate ways to 'add to' rather than 'subtract from' the honors it accords its historical giants by honoring Senator John McCain while continuing to honor Senator Richard Russell."

Max Cleland replaced Nunn in the U.S. Senate in 1996. He told us last night that the McCain he knew wouldn’t have wanted to see Russell’s name disappear.

Cleland was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss in 2002. We caught up with him on Tuesday. Chambliss expressed frustration that a discussion of McCain’s legacy has gotten tangled in what he sees as a Democratic political ploy.

“I want to see John memorialized in the right way. I want it to be in a very high-profile way. I think any time, though, you start trying to take names off of buildings and replace them with somebody else then you’re setting a precedent that’s going to be very difficult to live with down the road,” Chambliss said.

In 2014, Chambliss was succeeded by by Republican David Perdue, who has said much the same thing.

Russell was a lifelong bachelor. His sibling's children and grandchildren have been speaking up for him, in a fashion. From the Washington Post:

"Yes, Dick Russell was a racist. But he was much more than that. And all of the things he did for the country and the state benefit black people now," said Sally Russell, the 76-year-old niece of Richard Russell.


On Monday, Georgia's race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams was the most interesting gubernatorial contest in the nation. On Tuesday, that title shifted with a dramatic upset in the Florida Democratic primary. A few lightly edited gleanings from the Associated Press:

On the Republican side, President Donald Trump got his man, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who beat out the establishment favorite, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Despite Trump's support, DeSantis was not the strongest general election candidate in the race, operatives in both parties suggest.

The three-term GOP congressman, who makes frequent Fox News appearances, is known as an immigration hard-liner in a state where Hispanic voters hold outsized sway. And lest there be any question about his allegiance to Trump's divisive immigration policies, DeSantis encourages his toddler to "build the wall" with blocks in one campaign ad.

That's a message that may play well among a general electorate in West Virginia, where Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016, but Trump carried Florida by only a single percentage point.

On the Democratic side, liberal champion Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, bested a crowded field that included establishment favorite Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman and daughter of Florida political icon Bob Graham.

Graham, who was considered a centrist, was viewed as a more attractive general election candidate in the purple state. Gillum is more liberal, having earned the backing of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and billionaire Tom Steyer, who has been conducting a nationwide campaign arguing for the impeachment of Trump.

If you’re a Democrat, this is grounds for worry:

If a blue wave is coming to Florida, it may have to be supplied by independents.

With just a handful of precincts left to count, Republicans cast more than 1.6 million Florida ballots, while registered Democrats were on track to fall just below 1.5 million. Beyond the raw vote totals, the GOP count also was a larger share of its last presidential election turnout.

And there’s this tidbit:

In his upset victory, Gillum joins two other African-American gubernatorial nominees on the November ballot, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and Maryland Democrat Ben Jealous, in what may be the party's most diverse midterm class in history.

No state is currently represented by a black governor.


Keep an eye on this: In Trenton, Ga., up in northwest Georgia, a group of 59 union workers say they've been locked out at Bull Moose Tube Co.

A United Steel Workers official tells us that it may be the first lock-out that Georgia has seen in 30 years or so. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler is denying that there is any dispute over unemployment benefits -- he said the union just filed for them on Monday, and the company has 48 hours to respond. Afterwards, there will be an investigation to determine whether it is indeed a lock-out, or a walk-out.


Stacey Abrams is tapping LGBTQ donors for campaign cash in a major way. Patrick Saunders over at Project Q caught this detail:

Abrams' appearance at [Saturday's state Democratic] convention came following an Aug. 21 fundraiser hosted by LGBTQ and allied supporters. The event, held at the home of lesbian philanthropist Edie Cofrin, raised $140,000 for Abrams, according to co-chair Glen Paul Freedman.

It's a stark change from 2014, when statewide candidates Jason Carter (governor) and Michelle Nunn (U.S. Senate) held similar closed-door, big-ticket fundraisers with LGBTQ supporters but didn't speak out strongly for LGBTQ equality. Abrams supported LGBTQ equality efforts as a state lawmaker and has embraced LGBTQ issues during her campaign.

He also picked up this tidbit from Charlie Bailey, the Democratic nominee for attorney general who drew a big ovation at Saturday's convention for his promise to start a civil rights division. From Project Q:

[Bailey] also said Monday that during the 2019 legislative session, he would push for the passage of a comprehensive statewide civil rights bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

"In this bill, I will ask or request the authority to prosecute either government or private actors who violate someone's rights under the law," Bailey said. "This is important because the days of Washington defending our rights are over. We have to be prepared to protect on a state level, and that's why we need an AG who is dedicated to doing that."


The U.S. Chamber is out with a new ad touting U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall's vote in favor of last year's tax bill. The 30-second spot, which began airing on cable and digital platforms yesterday, says Georgia has greatly benefited from the law and urges voters to call the Lawrenceville Republican and tell him to continue pushing to make the tax cuts permanent. Watch it here:

Woodall faces Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Georgia State University professor, this fall in the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based Seventh District congressional contest.


Another Trump-nominated judge will soon take the oath in Georgia federal court.

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday quickly confirmed St. Simon's federal magistrate judge Stan Baker for a position on Georgia's southernmost U.S. District Court before skedaddling out of town until John McCain's funeral. The confirmation came via voice vote, a quick end to a process that took nearly a year for Baker. His nomination was not considered particularly controversial but got stuck in a broader partisan fight over Trump administration nominees.


As mentioned above, we caught up yesterday with former U.S. senator Saxby Chambliss. The Republican was gearing up for a trip to Washington, where he'll attend the funeral proceedings of his friend and former colleague John McCain in both the U.S. Capitol and U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Chambliss traveled the world with McCain as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He recounted visiting the other Georgia –the former Soviet one -- with the Arizona Republican, who “went toe-to-toe” with a prominent member of the Russian mob. He also discussed campaigning with him during his own tough runoff in 2008 and negotiating with him on issues from national defense to immigration:

“The good thing about John that was he was just so principled. He made it fun to work with him because you knew John liked to get things done, he understood how to compromise in the right way without violating your principles. And he was a tough negotiator.”


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