The Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill pm Aug. 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Why renaming D.C.’s Russell building won’t be so easy

Officially renaming the structure isn’t the hard part. The Senate could do that on its own, without the input of the House or President Donald Trump. 

But the Senate does ultimately need buy-in from those parties. That’s because every dime spent by the feds needs a signoff from both chambers of Congress and the White House, a constitutional requirement that makes a building rebrand a much heavier political lift. 

VIDEO: John McCain Lies in State at Arizona State Capitol

It costs money to replace every sign and placard on the Capitol Hill campus with a new name. And a marble statue for the building’s famous column-lined rotunda doesn’t come cheap. 

More than a dozen senators from both parties have expressed support for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s proposal to rename the building, which currently honors Richard B. Russell, a legendary yet controversial Georgia politico who was a staunch segregationist, in honor of the late McCain. 

Read more: Who is the Russell Senate Building named for?

Should a bipartisan group appointed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recommend such a course of action, it’s likely the votes are there in the chamber to do just that. 

But getting the money approved presents its own challenges. 

Each chamber of Congress has generally steered clear of telling the other what to do with its own facilities in spending bills. But some House Republicans are being pinched by fiscally conservative groups frustrated by the nation’s ballooning debt, and it’s conceivable some may not want to approve the elective spending. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee, which co-authors spending legislation, is currently led by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, a Southerner who earlier this week called Russell a “well-respected senator” and indicated he was wary about renaming the building. 

And then there’s Trump, who feuded bitterly with McCain and whose signature is needed to enact any spending bill into law. 

It would be fairly unprecedented for a president to veto legislation over something as small as a name change, but Trump has not hesitated to break with presidential customs in the past, especially if he’s had personal beef with someone. Earlier this week, he refused to fly White House flags at half-staff in McCain’s honor and declined to issue a formal statement honoring his legacy, decisions that were later reversed.  

Trump has also long railed against political correctness and defended Confederate statues and monuments. 

Any decision on the Russell building’s future is unlikely to come before the November elections. Seeking to avoid a messy pre-midterm showdown, McConnell announced plans to create a bipartisan “gang” to brainstorm ways to honor McCain on Capitol Hill. 

“I’m glad we’ll be able to form this gang to ensure that a suitable, lasting tribute becomes a reality,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Read more: 

Senate pumps brakes on effort to rename Russell building after McCain

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

Isakson, Perdue seek to slow debate over renaming Russell Building

Proposal renaming Senate’s Russell building for McCain a quandary for Ga. lawmakers

The last time they tried to rename the Russell Senate building

Georgia honors McCain by bucking Trump example

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is a senior reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's enterprise team, where she covers women in society, LGBTQ issues, the urban-rural...