Grassley Addresses his 1983 MLK Jr. Day ‘No’ Vote

Sen. Chuck Grassley holds the distinction as being the only still-serving legislator who cast a vote in the US Senate against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday back in 1983. The ranks of those members have dwindled in recent years, though Grassley does have a current Republican colleague—Sen. Richard Shelby—who voted against it, but Shelby did so at the time in the US House.

Every year, Grassley’s vote against the day honoring the civil rights leader draws attention and criticism—that included two of his Democratic opponents. Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer called him a “damn shame” for his 1983 vote and noted she’d pass voting rights legislation if she’s able to oust him. Retired admiral Mike Franken said Grassley continues to “tarnish the legacy of Dr. King by voting against legislation that will make it easier to vote for everyone.”

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After taking part in a MLK Day of Service event in Cedar Falls, Grassley held a public town hall meeting in Oelwein and afterward commented to Starting Line on his vote.

“He very much has to be recognized as an outstanding American,” Grassley said of King. “He gave his life for it. That’s something you have to do. At the time that I voted against it, though I want you to go back and read my speeches on that subject, but I assume I thought that another holiday was too much. But obviously I’ve changed my mind on that because I voted for Juneteenth to be a national holiday.”

In a 2015 story in The Hill on the group of legislators who opposed creating the holiday, a Grassley aide explained the old vote as more of a concern over giving workers too many federal days off.

“Senator Grassley’s vote against an MLK Day holiday was purely an economic decision both in the cost to the broader economy in lost productivity, and the cost to the taxpayers with the federal government closed,” the Grassley staffer said at the time.

The Senate’s more easily searchable database of past speeches only goes back to 1989. We’ll continue looking and will update this story if we are able to find Grassley’s speech on the matter.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/17/22

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6 Comments on "Grassley Addresses his 1983 MLK Jr. Day ‘No’ Vote"

  • I’m not a fan of Sen. Grassley but he certainly should not be painted as a racist. He opposed the MLK Day as he didn’t want another federal holiday. Where was Abby in 1983? Heck, she wasn’t even born yet! First Abby attacks Sen. Sinema and now Sen. Grassley. Not impressed by her one bit. Thought she might have learned a thing or two from her 2020 election loss. Heaven help the IDP if she is the US Senate nominee. Grassley will have her for lunch.

  • Noone called Senator Grassley a racist. We will however be watching to see how he votes on the John R. Lewis voting rights act. The civil rights act has been upheld under four Republican presidents . I voted for Abby in 2018 and 2020, will vote for her in 2022 also.

  • Ignore Grassley’s request to go through his speeches. That’s his literal job. The fact that he needs aids to defend his racist ideology is the ultimate testimony it’s time for him to drop dead. ALSO I can not imagine how few brain cells one must have to assume Juneteenth and MLK mean the same thing. He was a racist then and is a racist now. He is just now attempting to cover it up why “fiscal conservatism.”

  • Just wondering… Senator Grassley… how many paid holidays does the senate receive? Staff? Aides? If it’s waste of productive time for all or just THE PEOPLE!

  • Abby seems a little young and immature to be my senator. Criticizing Grassley and Sinema seems a little childish at best. This democrat didn’t vote for Grassley last time but certainly will if she is the nominee.

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