We hear from the dead all the time in Congress.
Those who have passed are part of the daily lingo on Capitol Hill.
The senator’s office is over in Hart. Republicans are meeting in the Mansfield Room. Cannon Rotunda? I thought you said the live shot was in the Russell Rotunda. Are you going to the hearing in Longworth?
Here’s a key to decode the references:
The Hart Senate Office Building is named for the late Sen. Phil Hart (D-MI). The Mansfield Room is a formal space in the Capitol, named after the late Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT). The Cannon Rotunda is in the Cannon House Office Building, named after the late House Speaker Joe Cannon (R-IL). The Russell Rotunda is in the Russell Senate Office Building, the namesake of Sen. Richard Russell (D-GA). TV news crews often do live hits and interviews from both rotundas. And the Longworth House Office Building is named after the late Speaker Nicholas Longworth (R-OH).
Statues of late Congressional figures, American presidents and other persons of historical importance saturate the Capitol complex. President Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr. in the Capitol Rotunda. Rosa Parks and Thomas Edison in Statuary Hall. Sakakawea and Helen Keller in the Capitol Visitor’s Center.
I recently unearthed two dusty CD’s of public radio stories I did about Congress between 2004 and 2006. What struck me about these aural time capsules was how many lawmakers spoke from the grave in the reports:
Sens. Ted Stevens (R-AK), George Voinovich (R-OH), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Craig Thomas (R-WY), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Pete Domenici (R-NM), along with Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), Steven LaTourette (R-OH), Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Leonard Boswell (D-IA) and Julia Carson (D-IN).
We talk about the departed all the time.
Senators invoke the “Byrd Rule” when discussing the complex, budget reconciliation process, named after the late Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV). The “Byrd Rule” bars provisions attached a budget reconciliation measure which would add significantly to the deficit. Joe Cannon has come up a lot of late. Cannon faced a rebellion from lawmakers after he ran the House with an iron fist. The creation of the “motion to recommit” or “MTR” grew out of that uprising. An MTR is the last chance for the minority party to kill or alter legislation on the floor. Some Democrats want to change the MTR as Republicans have recently prevailed on two MTR’s on the floor, against the wishes of most Democrats.
We bring this all up because President Trump is again railing about the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
McCain has seemingly crept under the President’s skin. And so Mr. Trump is unloading broadsides against the late senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee. President Trump has said he “never liked McCain,” rekindling an old feud with the Arizona Republican. The President lashed out at McCain for not supporting a Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. As a result, a host of lawmakers from both sides are now rallying to the defense of McCain, who laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda late last summer.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to rename the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of President Trump’s biggest backers and perhaps McCain’s most loyal colleague. But Graham says he doesn’t “like it” when the President attacks his late friend.
In an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) called Mr. Trump’s onslaught about McCain “deplorable” and “damaging.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called McCain “a rare patriot and genuine American hero” via Twitter. Yet some criticized McConnell for only defending McCain and not denouncing Mr. Trump’s disparagements.
The President’s aggressive condemnations of McCain even compelled the McCain Institute for International Leadership, associated with Arizona State University, to publish a news release titled “The Facts About John McCain.” The missive talked about McCain’s military service, time as a prisoner of war and included a lengthy justification about the senator’s position on health care.
“John McCain opposed Obamacare and fully supported ‘repeal and replace,’” punched back the release. “John McCain voted against the bill presented to the U.S. Senate – his famous ‘thumbs down’ – because it was ‘repeal,’ without ‘replace.’”
In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business, President Trump reiterated that he is “not a fan” of McCain, even suggesting that the furor over McCain is the press’s fault.
“You people bring it up,” said the President.
Yet it was President Trump who again began tearing into McCain after a period of dormancy.
“What he did to the Republican party and to the nation, the sick people who could have had great health care… Not good,” said Mr. Trump.
It’s not strange to hear about deceased lawmakers in Washington. So many of them are etched into the day-to-day patter of Capitol Hill that most who utter their names probably don’t even know much about the name of a room or a building they’re talking about. Rayburn. Dirksen. LBJ. And it may not be long until something in the Senate is named after John McCain. It’s as though these figures are kind of still living, influencing events.
There’s a thing in Star Wars about the dead. On multiple occasions, those who have passed on sometimes return as a “Force ghost.” They speak to the living and stage-manage events from the grave.
After Darth Vader cut down Obi-Wan Kenobi in a lightsaber duel, the latter returned via metempsychosis as a Force Ghost. Kenobi periodically re-emerges, instructing Luke Skywalker from the great beyond.
Death in Congress is a little bit like what happens in Star Wars.
People still talk about “Sarbanes-Oxley,” a major piece of consumer and financial regulation legislation. It’s named after former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and the late Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH) who crafted the measure. Every college student in the country knows about “Pell Grants,” named after the late Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI). Americans have long held tax-free “Roth IRA’s,” engineered by the late Sen. William Roth (R-DE). The “Hyde Amendment” is a provision sponsored by the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) prohibiting the use of federal dollars for abortions. There is even “McCain-Feingold.” McCain teamed up with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to regulate campaign financing.
Legislation and Congressional infrastructure are usually where we continue to hear from former leaders, impacting the daily lives of Americans, long after they died. President Trump’s fixation with McCain is different. Mr. Trump routinely changes the ground rules in politics.
No one can recall if other Presidents lobbed opprobrium toward late Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) or late House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX). But it’s likely historians will remember the invective President Trump lobbed at McCain.