07.21.21

Address On The One-Year Anniversary Of The Passing Of John Lewis

. . . . Senate Floor

I rise on the Senate Floor today to honor the legacy of one of this country’s most cherished heroes and a dear friend of mine: John Lewis.  This past Saturday marked one year since we said goodbye to John.  The pain of his loss is still fresh for my wife Marcelle and me, as it is for millions of Americans.  He wasn’t just a moral giant and guiding light for the world.  He was, as he always told me, my brother.    

For more than six decades, John Lewis served the United States with an unyielding belief that we could be better – that we have a responsibility to each other and the world to live up to our founding ideals.  John didn’t spend his life fighting for Democrats or Republicans.  He fought for the rights of all Americans, and the dignity of all human beings.  John’s principles were so much bigger than party and politics.  Wherever he saw suffering, he tried to end it.  Wherever he saw injustice, he tried to correct it.  Wherever good trouble was needed, he delivered it.

I knew John as more than just a generational leader.  I knew John as a friend, and I can tell you that his dedication to justice was matched only by his fundamental decency as person.  John and I served together in Congress for more than 30 years, and in those years I witnessed the tremendous humility and empathy that defined his lifetime of public service.  Every day, John embodied the ideals he fought for through his unfailing generosity and dignity.  I considered John Lewis a brother, and it was the honor of a lifetime to know he considered me one, too.

Many Americans know the stories of John’s bravery in the face of brutality.  He was beaten bloody – his bones broken – in his heroic efforts to bolster the ballot box for millions of Americans.  John wasn’t just on the front lines of our nation’s great civil rights movement – he was the front line.  John was there when the Freedom Riders were dragged off their buses, beaten, and arrested.  John was there to lead the march for freedom from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  And John was there when millions of Americans gathered in Washington to proclaim to the country that the time for justice and equality was now.  John put his body and soul on the line for that mighty movement that changed the world.

What fewer Americans may know is that John was beloved and respected by members of both parties.  It is because he believed in his heart that our nation’s greatest challenges must be faced together, regardless of party.  When he stood there beside President Lyndon B. Johnson as he signed the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, John was flanked by both Democrats and Republicans.  In that moment, he absorbed the lesson that reaching across the aisle wasn’t just a political necessity – it was the way to create lasting societal change.

Throughout his career in Congress, John embraced bipartisanship and built deep friendships with members of both parties.  For years, John led bipartisan groups of members of Congress – including some of my Republican friends in this body – down to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate Bloody Sunday and the American struggle for equal rights. I’ll never forget the iconic picture of John flanked on either side by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush – the three of them, heads bowed in silent reflection, arms linked – on the Edmund Pettus Bridge for Bloody Sunday’s 50th Anniversary.  John Lewis didn’t just cross bridges – he built them.  And by bringing people together, John helped us forge a more perfect Union.

So it is in John’s spirit today that I fervently urge my Republican friends to join me in restoring and reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.  I’d remind everyone in this body that reauthorizing the VRA on a bipartisan basis is how we have always done it.  The core provisions of the VRA have been reauthorized five times, and every single time it was with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress.  Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush all signed VRA reauthorizations into law, touting the profound importance of the landmark law for our democracy.  The most recent VRA reauthorization in 2006 was a 98 to 0 vote in the Senate – let me repeat, 98 to 0 – with multiple Republican Senators still serving today who voted yes.

So let’s honor John Lewis’s legacy the way he’d want to be honored – with solid, justified action.  I am committed to working with my Republican friends to find a bipartisan compromise around my John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which I proudly renamed in his honor last Congress.  John would want us to come together and find a path forward to addressing the many threats facing Americans’ foundational right to vote.  What he wouldn’t accept, however, is inaction.  So let’s put in the hard work and try to live up to the memory of John Lewis – our hero, our colleague, our brother. 

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