Conversations around racial issues have grown super charged during this presidential election season and part of that seems to have rubbed off on Capitol Hill in a debate over naming a post office after award-winning poet and Civil Rights activist, Maya Angelou.
On days when the House of Representatives does not have much to do by way of work, the body names post offices. Usually these are fairly mundane affairs, the body will unanimously vote to approve the naming of a post office no matter what member puts the request forward.
That was the case today when a vote to rename a post office in California to “Medal of Honor” post office passed 381-0.
However, it was not for the next vote, cast to rename a post office in Winston-Salem, N.C. after Civil Rights icon Maya Angelou. That measure passed with only 371 votes.
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Nine Republicans voted against the Maya Angelou bill and one voted present.
“While Maya Angelou did many good things in her life, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) did not believe it appropriate to name an American Post Office after a communist sympathizer and thereby honor a person who openly opposed America’s interest by supporting Fidel Castro and his regime of civil rights suppression, torture and murder of freedom-loving Cubans,” Lauren Vandiver, a spokesperson for Brooks, told NBC News in a statement.
Other Republican lawmakers who voted "no" had similar reasons.
“Congressman Harris voted against the Maya Angelou post office naming because she was a communist sympathizer. His parents escaped communism and he feels that he cannot vote to name a post office in the United States in honor of someone who supported the communist Castro revolution in Cuba,” Shelby Hodgkins, a spokesperson in the office of Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., wrote NBC News in a statement.
The nine Republicans who voted against naming the post office after Maya Angelou were GOP Reps Mo Brooks of Alabama, Ken Buck of Colorado, Michael Burgess of Texas, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, Andy Harris of Maryland, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Alex Mooney of West Virginia, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi. Rep. Don Young of Alaska voted present.
Democrats, invigorated by GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s failure to quickly disavow association with former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke went on offense.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-Ny., released a statement saying:
“Naming post offices is one of the most benign and bipartisan duties we perform in the House of Representatives, and there is rarely any opposition. That’s why I was shocked today as nine Republicans voted against naming a post office after Maya Angelou, indisputably one of our country’s greatest poets, authors and civil rights activists. The fact that these nine Members would cast a no vote shows a blatant disrespect and only adds to the damaging actions they’ve taken this year to reverse progress from long and hard fought civil rights battles.”
Angelou while a supporter of Democrats, was in her later years universally beloved for her poetry. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, her works are widely taught in American schools and she was even put on a postage stamp after her death in 2014.
NBC News has reached out to the offices of other Republican members who voted against naming the post office after Angelou, they have yet to respond.
Luke Russert joined NBC News in August 2008 as a correspondent based in Washington, D.C. Russert currently reports from Capitol Hill on the House of Representatives for “Nightly News with Brian Williams,” “TODAY,” MSNBC and NBCNews.com.
Since late 2011 Russert has served as a guest host on various MSNBC programs including: “Way Too Early” “The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd” “Andrea Mitchell Reports” “NOW with Alex Wagner” and “The Cycle.”
From March 2006-2010, Russert co-hosted the sports radio talk show "60/20 Sports" with political pundit James Carville on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio. On "60/20 Sports" he interviewed the likes of former President Clinton, former President George Bush, Bill Russell, Cal Ripken Jr. and Lance Armstrong.
In May of 2009, Russert was honored with the Marlin Fitzwater Award for Leadership in Public Communication from Franklin Pierce University, an award meant to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to public discourse in the spirit of a healthy democracy. He’s also received an honorary degree from Wingate University in North Carolina.
Russert graduated from Boston College with a double major in history and communications. He is the son of the late Tim Russert and Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth. Russert lives in Washington, D.C., with his pug Chamberlain.