46 Senate Republicans paid tribute to John Lewis but won't back voting rights


Just one Senate Republican is co-sponsoring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Days after nearly every Senate Republican paid tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), just one is backing a voting rights bill named in his memory.

On Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act and combat voter suppression. The bill has 47 co-sponsors: the entire Senate Democratic caucus and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was one of the leaders of the 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, that dramatized the need for voting rights legislation. When Lewis and hundreds of other peaceful protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers violently attacked them. The television footage of the "Bloody Sunday" massacre helped spur Congress and President Lyndon Johnson to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In a floor statement, Leahy said the bill "would safeguard what John fought over a lifetime to achieve: equality at the voting booth."

"John called voting 'the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.' He was right. And that's why we cannot stand idly by while states engage in flagrant suppression schemes to take this tool away from marginalized communities," Leahy added.

The House passed its version of the legislation in December, with just one Republican vote. But for months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican majority have refused to bring the bill up for a vote. McConnell (KY) dismissed the bill and hundreds of others passed by the House as a "left-wing parade" and said, "We're not gonna pass those."

On Saturday, however, McConnell issued a lengthy statement praising Lewis and his civil rights work.

"The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles," McConnell said. He noted Lewis' role in helping "to found and lead the mid-century Civil Rights movement," and concluded: "Our nation will never forget this American hero."

Neither McConnell nor any of the other 51 Senate Republicans responded to inquiries about whether they planned to join Murkowski in backing the legislation to restore voting rights in Lewis' name. At least 45 of them, however, joined McConnell in praising the the 17-term congressman after his death on Friday:

  • Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) tweeted: "John Lewis' life proves that the story of America can be, as the Rev. Ben Hooks used to say, 'a work in progress for the better—even though we still have a long way to go.'"
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (TN) tweeted: "John Lewis was a dear and honorable man. His dedication to seeking racial justice and reconciliation marked his life and work. He will be remembered for the lives he changed and the doors he opened for millions of Americans."
  • Sen. Roy Blunt (MO) tweeted: "John Lewis had a backbone of steel surrounded by a gentle spirit. His determination produced important changes."
  • Sen. John Boozman (AR) tweeted: "John Lewis believed in the promise of America and worked tirelessly to see it fulfilled. His life and legacy will inspire future generations to reach new heights of achievement and pursue the dreams he believed in so powerfully."
  • Sen. Richard Burr (NC) said in a statement: "Throughout his life, John Lewis was a fighter. Standing alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington and in Selma, John was considered one of the Big Six Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He was unwavering in his fight for equality and worked tirelessly to ensure that America's God-given freedoms are enjoyed by all."
  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV) wrote on Facebook that Lewis "was a hero and an icon."
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (LA) wrote on Facebook: "John served our country with dignity and did incredible work for civil rights. He set the standard for how we should treat those with whom we might disagree."
  • Sen. Susan Collins (ME) tweeted: "With the passing of Congressman John Lewis, America has lost a civil rights icon who changed history at great personal sacrifice."
  • Sen. John Cornyn (TX) tweeted: "Congressman John Lewis will be remembered for many things, but his tireless work as a civil rights leader and dedication to fighting for the oppressed changed the course of history. He made an impact not just on Georgia, but the world."
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) tweeted: "John Lewis was a civil rights icon. He was instrumental in helping @RepFrenchHill and I pass legislation that expanded the @CentralHighNPS boundary to better preserve one of Arkansas's most important historic sites. His legacy will live on."
  • Sen. Kevin Cramer (ND) tweeted: "John Lewis was one of the most decent and generous people I've had the honor to serve with. He is an icon who's [sic] legend will live in the hearts and minds of America forever."
  • Sen. Mike Crapo (ID) tweeted: "Representative John Lewis was an instrumental and strong figure in the civil rights movement and in Congress."
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) tweeted: "Tonight, the world grieves for the great John Lewis. In my 1st yr in the Senate, I had the privilege of traveling w/ John & much of the Congressional Black Caucus to Nelson Mandela's funeral. The entire trip to Johannesburg, John regaled us w/ stories of being alongside Dr. King."
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (IA) tweeted: "Our nation is grieving the loss of Congressman John Lewis: a dedicated public servant. His legacy and leadership on civil rights will never be forgotten."
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (CO) tweeted: "John Lewis was a giant among us and a powerful force for good. I was fortunate to serve with him in the US House and I know his legacy will inspire future generations."
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) tweeted: "John Lewis was one of the strongest and most effective voices during the Civil Rights era and maintained a passion for his causes until the very end. He lived a consequential life and worked hard to make America a more perfect Union. His voice will be missed."
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) tweeted: "We lost a pioneer civil rights ldr just like MLK. I didn't hv lots of discussion w John in 34 yrs of serving together but every time I did it was always pleasant He was a dedicated public servant & his legacy lives on."
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (MO) tweeted: "John Lewis, follower of Jesus, fighter for justice, lover of America."
  • Sen. John Hoeven (ND) tweeted: "A strong civil rights leader, he fought for equality & justice and his efforts helped make our country better."
  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS) tweeted: "We will all miss the dignity and decency of John Lewis."
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK) tweeted: "@repjohnlewis and I came to Congress at the same time and it was an honor to serve with him. His legacy as a courageous and fierce advocate for all Americans will live on."
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (WI) tweeted that Lewis was "a courageous leader who will be missed by all who served with him in Congress and throughout America."
  • Sen. John Kennedy (LA) tweeted: "John Lewis made America better. He believed in, and espoused in word and deed, the ideal of America as a color-blind meritocracy."
  • Sen. James Lankford (OK) tweeted: "The legacy of @repjohnlewis will last for decades to come - the whole nation is grateful for his service and example."
  • Sen. Mike Lee (UT) tweeted: "John Lewis was a brave man who never hesitated to confront injustice wherever he saw it. He is an American hero and an inspiration to us all."
  • Sen. Kelly Loeffler (GA) said in a statement: "Few people have the grit, tenacity, or courage of John Lewis. As a leader in the civil rights movement, he always pushed America to live up to its promise of freedom and equality. Our nation is better because of his leadership and courage."
  • Sen. Martha McSally (AZ) tweeted: "John Lewis was a good man, a civil rights icon, and a legendary leader. His presence will be greatly missed in Congress."
  • Sen. Jerry Moran (KS) tweeted: "John Lewis was a giant among us who dedicated his entire life to making our country a more perfect union. John was one of the original Freedom Riders, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery & a Member of Congress for 30+ yrs."
  • Sen. Rand Paul (KY) tweeted that Lewis "was a monumental figure of the civil rights movement."
  • Sen. David Perdue (GA) tweeted: "John Lewis was the embodiment of courage. A civil rights icon, John fought against injustice with unwavering dedication and inspired millions of Americans to do the same."
  • Sen. Rob Portman (OH) tweeted: "John Lewis was a civil rights icon who committed his life to fighting for justice and equality."
  • Sen. Jim Risch (ID) retweeted Idaho Gov. Brad Little's announcement that the state would fly flags at half-staff "as mark of respect for the memory and longstanding public service of Rep. Lewis" whose "contributions to our country will not be forgotten."
  • Sen. Pat Roberts (KS) tweeted: "John Lewis' dedication to bettering our nation is a legacy that will never be forgotten."
  • Sen. Mitt Romney (UT) tweeted: "With the passing of John Lewis, America has lost not only a man of history, but a man for our season; O how we need such men of unwavering principle, unassailable character, penetrating purpose, and heartfelt compassion."
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (SD) tweeted: "John Lewis was a giant in the civil rights movement. He understood the principle of working to create a more perfect union."
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) tweeted: "John Lewis was a genuine American hero."
  • Sen. Ben Sasse (NE) said in a statement: "John Lewis is an American hero. America is a cause to advance the truth of universal human dignity. John Lewis risked his life for that truth and his courage created a more perfect union. Our country is forever grateful."
  • Sen. Rick Scott (FL) tweeted that Lewis "left an indelible mark on our country and spent his entire life giving a voice to the voiceless. We are forever grateful for his service to our country and our world."
  • Sen. Tim Scott (SC) tweeted that Lewis "was a giant among men; his life and legacy will continue to serve as an example for the generations to come. I am encouraged by his courage, determination, and perseverance, characteristics that we can all try to emulate — especially in the wake of current events."
  • Sen. Dan Sullivan (AK) wrote on Facebook: "America has lost a legend with the passing of Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia. Congressman Lewis' courage and principled leadership helped guide America through one of the most challenging periods in its history, calling our country to live up to its highest ideals with justice and equality for all people regardless color or creed."
  • Sen. John Thune (SD) tweeted: "Last night, America lost one of our great civil rights heroes. John Lewis dedicated his life to serving and improving our country. He will be greatly missed."
  • Sen. Thom Tillis (NC) tweeted: "John Lewis was a titan who fought for justice and equality for all. His legacy as a civil rights leader will continue to have a profound impact on our nation for generations to come."
  • Sen. Pat Toomey (PA) tweeted: "John Lewis was a great American. A civil rights leader and dedicated public servant who successfully led numerous fights in the name of equality and against racism and discrimination. Our nation will miss John Lewis."
  • Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) tweeted that Lewis "was a leader who challenged the status quo and helped change our nation for the better... He was a principled gentleman and a friend. He will be missed."
  • Sen. Todd Young (IN) tweeted: "John Lewis was a true American hero who dedicated his life to the pursuit of equality and justice. He helped create a more perfect Union, and it was an honor to serve with him."

Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Mike Braun (IN), Steve Daines (MT), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), and Richard Shelby (AL) do not appear to have posted statements about Lewis on their social media or official websites.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.