Replace Richard Russell’s Name With McCain’s? Senate Debates a Segregationist’s Legacy

A number of Republicans, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, appeared ready on Tuesday to dodge the issue. Mr. McConnell announced he would appoint a bipartisan group of senators to hash over ways to honor Mr. McCain, suggesting naming the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearing room after him and commissioning a portrait for the ornate Senate Reception Room, just off the Senate chamber.

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

The senators from Georgia, both Republicans, are split on the issue. Senator Johnny Isakson told reporters on Tuesday that he supported the renaming, while Senator David Perdue defended Mr. Russell as a “giant of the Senate” and said that “this renaming thing because of one issue is somewhat troubling.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of Mr. McCain’s closest friends, said he would defer to the senator’s widow, Cindy McCain, on the matter, but added that he would “name the Capitol” after the senator if he could.

Such suggestions hint that Mr. Russell’s nameplate is safe for now. And he certainly has his backers.

“Richard Russell was from the South and, I’m sure, not perfect like George Washington and everyone else in his day,” said Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama who, like Mr. Russell, was once a conservative Democrat. “But he was a well-respected senator.”

Twice a presidential candidate, Mr. Russell was known for the ascendant political trajectory he charted from a young age. Elected to Georgia’s House of Representatives in 1921 at the age of 23, followed by a stint as the youngest-ever governor of the state, Mr. Russell closed out his staggering career in the Senate, where he established himself as a venerable figure.

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