Sen. Johnny Isakson, R - Ga., points to someone he knows in the crowd as he prepares to hold his town hall meeting at Kennesaw State University on Monday, August 14, 2017, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/

Isakson, Perdue seek to slow debate over renaming Russell Building

U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson said lawmakers should first focus on honoring the late Arizona Republican’s family and legacy before making a decision to rename the Capitol Hill edifice, which honors the legendary yet controversial Georgia U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell Jr.

Perdue went as far as to suggest that he would block any efforts to quickly move the legislation in order to “talk about all the options.”

“I think right now what we have is an opportunity to honor John McCain in the right way,” Perdue said. “So unless somebody presents a case that I’m not aware of, I will resist that.”

Isakson said Monday that it was too early to weigh in on the proposal to rename the building out of which both he and Perdue work.

“It’s not time to talk about it,” he said. “We owe it to the McCain family to talk about John McCain and his contributions to the country and not anything else, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Isakson’s comments came shortly after giving an impassioned tribute to his former colleague on the Senate floor that appeared to take a shot at President Donald Trump for his feud with McCain.

“Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping,” he said, “because most of the ones who would do the wrong thing about John McCain didn’t have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn. So I would say to the president or anybody in the world, it’s time to pause and say ‘this was a great man.’”

Momentum growing

On Monday, nearly a dozen senators expressed openness to the Russell resolution being floated by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

“It would be a fitting tribute to a man who considered his service here in the Senate … the most significant of his distinguished career,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. He added that Russell, “a towering figure in the Senate of his day, was nonetheless an avowed opponent of civil rights and the architect of the Southern filibuster that long delayed its passage.”

“It’s time that we recognize that as times change, so do our heroes,” he said.

Russell is known as one of the most powerful senators of all time, a master of the chamber’s byzantine rules who advised presidents, oversaw the Pentagon during two wars and helped create the federal school lunch program. But he was also a segregationist who used his mastery of the chamber’s procedures to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act and oppose bills banning lynching and abolishing the poll tax.

The idea to rename the Russell Building won over several Senate colleagues as they returned to Capitol Hill for the first time since McCain’s death. Delaware Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Coons called it “an important and fitting tribute,” and outgoing U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said he’d be “more than fine” with passing the resolution.

“I think it’s great,” he said.

On Fox News, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole endorsed the idea, as did Utah Republican U.s. Sen. Orrin Hatch.

One voice that did not weigh in was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican’s backing will be crucial to move the proposal through the chamber.

In a tribute to McCain on the Senate floor, McConnell said “we’re all eager to come together and collaborate on ways we can continue to honor his memory.”

The Georgia senators were not the only Republicans to express skepticism about the effort to rename the building, although none of their colleagues expressed outright opposition.

Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe worried the initiative was politically motivated.

“I really don’t have a position on that yet,” he said. “I need to know if it’s something (with an) ulterior motive.”

Perdue, who sits at the wooden desk once assigned to Russell in the Senate chamber, said his colleagues shouldn’t rush to strip the former Georgia governor of his namesake building.

“This is a man who made tremendous contributions,” Perdue said of Russell. “In hindsight, today we can say he was wrong on any issue, but I think you’ve got to measure that in the full picture of his contributions, just like John McCain. I think that’s why I think we ought to consider what is the right way to honor John’s legacy.”

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