The late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights legend who maintained a crusade for voting rights throughout his 33 years in Congress, lay in state in the Capitol on Monday in a ceremony reserved for the most revered of statesmen.
Lawmakers paid emotional tributes to Lewis, who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington and suffered a skull fracture at the hands of state troopers in Selma, Ala., on what became known as "Bloody Sunday."
Lewis died on July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. His casket, draped in an American flag, rested atop a catafalque originally built in 1865 for when former President Lincoln lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
"Under the dome of the U.S. Capitol, we have bid farewell to some of the greatest Americans in our history. It is fitting that John Lewis joins this pantheon of patriots resting upon the same catafalque of President Abraham Lincoln," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
"We knew that he always worked on the side of the angels, and now we know that he is with them," Pelosi said.
Lewis is the first Black lawmaker in the nation's history to lie in state beneath the soaring Rotunda, and Democrats on Monday hailed his lifelong commitment to issues of racial justice and human rights - while vowing to continue that fight on Capitol Hill.
"John Lewis was just a giant of men, and he's given us the road map for how we can heal as a country," said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), calling Lewis the "conscience of the Congress."
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the fifth-ranking House Democrat and a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus, cited Lewis's influence on untold numbers of African Americans, calling him a "hero, patriot and change-maker."
"We're inspired by the time that we had to spend with this extraordinary human being," he said. "And we'll continue to get in the way and create good trouble, as he constantly urged us to do."
Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore masks emblazoned with Lewis's motto of "good trouble." Other masks bore another message that's practically synonymous with Lewis's legacy: "vote."
The ceremony honoring a lawmaker revered on both sides of the aisle offered a brief respite from the partisan bickering over coronavirus relief legislation, which has made slow progress in recent days.
The coronavirus pandemic itself led to a change in the proceedings for Lewis.
Normally, members of the public can line up outside the Capitol Visitor Center and make their way into the Rotunda to pay their respects to an individual lying in state. But this time, Lewis's casket will be placed outdoors at the top of the Capitol's east front steps on Monday evening and throughout the day on Tuesday so members of the public can walk past while still adhering to public health guidelines.
Before arriving at the Capitol, the hearse carrying Lewis's casket made its way through Washington along a path of historical landmarks denoting his legacy.
The procession rolled past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial honoring Lewis's ally in the civil rights movement; the Lincoln Memorial, where Lewis spoke at the March on Washington; and at the newly established Black Lives Matter Plaza, which Lewis visited shortly before his death.
On Sunday, Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma one last time along the route that he and other civil rights marchers had taken on what became Bloody Sunday in 1965. The public outrage over the violence that Lewis, at the time a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and others faced ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.
Shortly before lawmakers gathered in the Capitol Rotunda, the House passed a resolution by unanimous consent to change the name of Democrats' voting rights bill to honor Lewis.
The House passed the legislation in December to restore a part of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 that required certain states with histories of voter suppression to obtain clearance from the Justice Department before making changes to election laws. The GOP-controlled Senate has declined to take up the bill, which Republicans argue is unnecessary.
Despite his reluctance to take up the bill now bearing Lewis's name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recalled on Monday how the sight of the massive crowds at the March on Washington where the future congressman spoke "gave me hope for our country."
"John Lewis lived and worked with urgency, because the task was urgent. But even though the world around him gave him every cause for bitterness, he stubbornly treated everyone with respect and love," McConnell said.
"May all of us that he will leave behind under this dome pray for a fraction of John's strength to keep bending that arc on toward justice," he said.
But some Democrats found it ironic that McConnell would be among the figures hailing Lewis's fight for civil rights, as McConnell has long opposed the same voting rights legislation that Lewis has championed since the 2013 Supreme Court decision. McConnell has said the South has changed since 1965, when the law was first enacted, and voter suppression is no longer a problem facing Black voters.
"There's very little tangible evidence of this whole voter-suppression nonsense that the Democrats are promoting," McConnell told The Wall Street Journal an interview published earlier this month. "My prediction is African-American voters will turn out in as large a percentage as whites, if not more so, all across the country."
Democrats disagree, arguing that new state laws that purge voter rolls, restrict voting windows and require voter IDs are all forms of suppression that disadvantage Black and other minority voters disproportionately. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who represents Selma, suggested McConnell was being hypocritical for praising Lewis while blocking legislation that built on his legacy.
"McConnell has taken to the floor to honor John, but the most significant thing he can do is to bring up the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020 for a vote," she said Monday.
Hundreds of people waited in a line that stretched all the way to the Supreme Court for the outdoor public viewing on Monday evening, despite the 95-degree summer heat.
Vice President Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, were among those who paid their respects at the Capitol on Monday.
But President Trump notably won't be there. He confirmed to reporters on his way to a trip to North Carolina on Monday that he wouldn't be stopping by the Capitol.
Trump clashed with Lewis shortly before his inauguration in 2017, which drew bipartisan backlash at the time.
Lewis had said he would not attend Trump's inauguration because he didn't believe he was a "legitimate" president.
Trump fired back over Twitter that Lewis was "all talk, talk, talk - no action or results" and should instead focus on helping his "crime infested" district.
But Lewis's passing otherwise drew bipartisan tributes from both sides of the aisle. In addition to McConnell eulogizing Lewis at the ceremony in the rotunda, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black GOP senator, joined in presenting ceremonial wreaths.
Pelosi concluded her tribute by allowing Lewis to speak for himself - through a recording of his 2014 commencement address at Emory University.
"You must find a way to get in the way. You must find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble," Lewis told the graduating students at the time.
"We all live in the same house. And it doesn't matter whether we are Black or white, Latino, Asian American or Native American. It doesn't matter if we are straight or gay," Lewis said. "Be bold. Be courageous. Stand up, speak up, speak out and find a way to create the beloved community."
Original story here.