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.”
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