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Senators Defend Lynching Absences

From being busy with other legislative business to a belief that the measure was simply not necessary, 13 Senate Republicans offered a variety of explanations for their decision not to co-sponsor a resolution apologizing for the chamber’s past inaction on lynching.

As of late Friday afternoon, the measure’s author, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), had 86 co-sponsors, eight of whom — five Republicans and three Democrats — signed on after its Monday evening passage, according to a summary on the THOMAS Web site.

The overwhelming majority of the Republicans who didn’t sign on told Roll Call on Friday that they supported the resolution but simply decided against co-sponsoring it, pointing to the unanimous voice vote as evidence of their support.

But, despite pressure from Democratic campaign operatives and their liberal allies, at least three GOP Senators have said that, in principle, they preferred a different approach.

Most outspoken has been Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who stood his ground against a series of home-state news reports and editorials critical of his decision. Cochran has taken the position that the bill deals with the failure of previous Senates on the lynching issue, something he shouldn’t have to apologize for even though he would have supported anti-lynching measures had he been in the Senate during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.

“I don’t feel I should apologize for the passage of or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate. But I deplore and regret that lynchings occurred and that those committing them were not punished,” he said in a statement last week.

In an interview with his state’s largest paper, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, he pointedly noted that the paper had not apologized for its 50 years of editorials in support of segregation.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who, like Cochran, would have voted “aye” if there had been a roll call vote on the matter, said that there were better ways to handle the issue, such as pushing forward-looking legislative issues rather than apologizing for previous inactions.

“The best way for the United States Senate to condemn lynching is to get to work on legislation that would offer African Americans and other Americans better access to good schools, quality health care and decent jobs,” he said in a statement inserted into the Congressional Record.

Rarely has a nonbinding Senate resolution with such broad bipartisan support turned into a touchstone for controversy after its passage by a voice vote. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and liberal activists have made it an issue by accusing Republicans of not supporting the measure aggressively enough.

The anti-lynching legislation, officially known as S.Res.39, was introduced on Feb. 7 and was clearly a noncontroversial, bipartisan measure that no Senator was likely to oppose. At that point, Landrieu had 36 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans. Five GOP Senators openly mulling a presidential run in 2008 were original co-sponsors: Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Sens. George Allen (Va.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and John McCain (Ariz.).

The other GOP Senator believed to be considering a White House run, Rick Santorum (Pa.), signed on as a co-sponsor 10 days later.

Even though no one was opposing the resolution, there was a late rush to sign on as a co-sponsor to it. In addition to the eight Senators who signed on after the resolution passed, 17 more signed on as co-sponsors on the day it was approved by voice vote, last Monday evening.

By then, it had turned into the center of a highly charged partisan fight.

The DSCC cited Frist’s presidential ambitions and accused him of employing a “Southern strategy” — a reference to Richard Nixon’s campaigns to appeal to whites in the South — for not holding a roll call vote on the issue. And on Friday a black state Representative in New Hampshire, Claire Clark (D), issued a statement condemning Granite State Sens. Judd Gregg and John Sununu for not co-sponsoring the measure.

In addition, Clark attacked Allen, who was the lead GOP co-sponsor of the resolution, for having a noose in his office when he was Virginia’s governor — a practice that Allen has repeatedly said was not a reference to racial practices but a law-and-order sentiment.

Allen will be in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first presidential primary, later this month on a political trip.

Republicans have accused their critics of trying to politicize the issue.

Cameron Hardy, spokesman for Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), one of the 13 still not signed on as a co-sponsor as of Friday, said his boss was actively working on the energy bill and the Central American trade measure. If he had opposed the bill, he would have done so on the floor and forced a roll call vote, Hardy said.

“If it passed by unanimous consent, that means everyone supported it,” he added. “I don’t see the news value.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) associated his views with those of Alexander in a statement inserted into the Congressional Record. Don Stewart, Cornyn’s spokesman, said it is “truly unfortunate” that a “somber remembrance of the sins of the past” had been turned into a “political cudgel.” He accused liberal bloggers and some resolution supporters of drumming up a non-issue.

A pair of veteran Senate Republicans, Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa), admitted to staff error in explaining why they didn’t originally support the anti-lynching resolution.

“It really was just an oversight,” Adam Elggren, Hatch’s spokesman, said Friday.

“He did co-sponsor it. He was just a day late,” said Beth Levine, Grassley’s spokeswoman.

Hatch, according to the THOMAS Web site, signed on Thursday. Grassley added his name to the resolution on Wednesday.

Two Senators, Trent Lott (Miss.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.), could not be reached for comment about their decisions against signing on to the bill.

Of the 13 GOP non-sponsors, 11 appear to be in safe political positions. Kyl, who faced no Democratic opponent in 2000, may face a challenge from a wealthy developer, Jim Pederson, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

And Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) may run for governor in 2006, which would pit her in a primary against Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Chris Paulitz, Hutchison’s spokesman, said she supported the bill.

“You don’t have to co-sponsor everything that you are in favor of,” Paulitz said. “She abhors lynching and thinks it is a horrific part of American history.”

The following quotes come from the 13 Senate Republicans — or their press staff — explaining their reasons for not signing on as co-sponsors of the bill apologizing for not approving legislation outlawing lynching during the civil rights struggle. These statements were provided by the Senators’ offices or culled from the Congressional Record. Some of the offices could not provide explanations by press time Friday. The following quotes come from the 13 Senate Republicans — or their press staff — explaining their reasons for not signing on as co-sponsors of the bill apologizing for not approving legislation outlawing lynching during the civil rights struggle. These statements were provided by the Senators’ offices or culled from the Congressional Record. Some of the offices could not provide explanations by press time Friday.


Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
“I also condemn lynching. … But, rather than begin to catalog and apologize for all those times that some Americans have failed to reach our goals, I prefer to look ahead. I prefer to look to correct current injustices rather than to look to the past.”

Bob Bennett (Utah)
“I come from a State that does not have a history of lynchings, but that does not mean I should be absolved from the concern that all Americans should have over the lynchings that have occurred. I note that it was the filibuster that made it possible for the Senate to be the body that blocked this legislation in the past. I would hope that in the future, we would all realize that the filibuster should be used for more beneficial purposes than that.”

Thad Cochran (Miss.)
“I don’t feel I should apologize for the passage of or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate. But I deplore and regret that lynchings occurred and that those committing them were not punished.”

John Cornyn (Texas)
“There are different ways to acknowledge those times when Americans have failed to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.”

Mike Enzi (Wyo.)
“Sen. Enzi believes the lynchings that took place were tragic and that they never should have occurred. The legislation was passed by voice vote. Sen. Enzi agreed to that. He did not object.”

Judd Gregg (N.H.)
“The fact that this amendment passed unanimously showed the depth of the support this resolution rightfully received, and Sen. Gregg was pleased to offer his support.”

Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas)
“You don’t have to co-sponsor everything that you are in favor of. She abhors lynching and thinks it is a horrific part of American history.”

Jon Kyl (Ariz.)
No response.

Trent Lott (Miss.)

No response.

Richard Shelby (Ala.)
“There are many instances where Sen. Shelby supports legislation and resolutions without being a co-sponsor.”

Gordon Smith (Ore.)
“Sen. Smith strongly supports the resolution. He has a long record protecting civil rights.”

John Sununu (N.H.)
“Sen. Sununu supported the resolution, and was on the Senate floor Monday evening when the resolution passed unanimously by a voice vote.”

Craig Thomas (Wyo.)
“The Senator was working on the energy bill and CAFTA when that came around. … If it passed by unanimous consent, that means everyone supported it. I don’t see the news value.”

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