GOP 'Haunted' by Anti-MLK Holiday Votes

January 19th, 2015 1:08 PM

MSNBC plays the race card 365 days a year, but on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, you can be sure they'll really ham it up. Witness writer Jane Timm's pathetic attempt to bash the GOP as racist by bringing up decades-old votes on whether or not to make the civil-rights leader's birthday a federal holiday.

"GOP haunted by anti-MLK Day votes," blares a teaser headline on the home page. "Amid highly publicized racial tension in areas like Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, these nay votes have received renewed scrutiny and attention," adds the caption beneath a black-and-white photo of President Reagan signing into law a bill to make MLK Day a federal holiday. 

The actual article itself is only 10 paragraphs and begins by trying to breathe new life into a scandal involving Rep. Steve Scalise's (R-La.) address to a white supremacist group when he was a state legislator:

In 1999, then-Louisiana state Rep. Steve Scalise voted against implementing and later mandating the federal Martin Luther King holiday in his state. In 2004, he did it again – this time one of just six in the state to vote against the holiday the federal government had been celebrating for two decades. 

Smack in between those two votes, the lawmaker addressed a group of white supremacists in 2002. The Republican—now the Majority Whip in the House of Representatives—has since apologized for the speech, but the scandal has highlighted how race remains a problematic issue for many conservatives.

For good measure, Timm then wider her scope to hit Republicans who were in Congress in the early 1980s and voted on the MLK holiday proposal:

Eight other Republicans who voted against the holiday are currently serving in Congress as of Monday, the 31st Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the federal government has observed in honor of the slain African-American icon, arguably the country’s most influential civil rights leader. Amid highly publicized racial tension in areas like Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, these nay votes have received renewed scrutiny and attention.

In 1983, 112 federal lawmakers—90 representatives (77 Republicans, 13 Democrats) and 22 senators (18 Republicans, 4 Democrats) voted against commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy with a federal holiday on the third Monday in January. Six of them are still in office, joining three others, including Scalise, who voted against the holiday while in office. Twenty current Congressmen who supported the measure are also still in office, including Republicans Sen. Thad Cochran and Sen. Pat Roberts.

Many conservatives who have been approached about their nay votes in recent years have cited their opposition to the added cost of closing the federal government for a holiday; others have recanted their rejection of the holiday, but still others have declined to speak with reporters on the issue over the years, leaving it ambiguous as to whether they still oppose the holiday.

Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John McCain of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, as well as Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Kentucky’s Hal Rogers all opposed the measure. Texas’ Rep. John Culberson and Georgia’s Sen. Johnny Isakson also voted against the holiday on a state level, The Hill reports. 

A handful of other notable Republican opponents of the holiday during its multiple-year evolution from concept to reality include: President Ronald Reagan, although he did sign it when it arrived on his desk with a veto-proof majority; former Vice President Dick Chene [sic], whoy [sic] voted against the bill in 1978, but voted for it in 1983; and former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who was another nay vote in 1983.

McCain, while running for president in 2008, told NBC News he regretted that vote. He was notably a prisoner of war in Vietnam when King was assassinated. Hatch called the vote “one of the worst decisions I have made as senator” in a 2007 book. And Isakson recently told The Hill he’d reverse his nay vote if he could. 

Of course Timm failed to delve deeper to give any context for the "no" votes. For example, Ron Paul often was recorded as the lone "no" vote on all manners of legislation and House resolutions which he regarded as unconstitutional at worst or absurdly ceremonial at best. One can disagree with Paul's reasoning, but he had a fairly storied record as marching to the beat of his own drum on things from a libertarian perspective.

As for Reagan's initial opposition, Timm failed to explain that Reagan was essentially concerned about both the cost to taxpayers of another federal holiday and that might also open the door to all manner of other groups persistently lobbying for a paid-vacation federal holiday in honor of their hero of choice. 

At any rate, it's pretty clear that the Gipper did not expend political capital to oppose the holiday and that he gladly signed legislation when it reached his desk.