Today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Memphis to commemorate the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. As ThinkProgress has noted, as a congressman in 1983, McCain voted against legislation creating MLK Day.
Most Republicans (including then-Rep. Dick Cheney) supported the bill, later signed by President Reagan. McCain complained it “cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized.” He eventually came around to supporting the holiday in a 1990 Arizona referendum that failed.
In his speech today, McCain tried to explain his misguided vote by stating, “We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing”:
We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made myself long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King. I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona. We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans. But he knew as well that in the long term, confidence in the reasonability and good heart of America is always well placed.
During these statements, some in the crowd said, “We forgive you,” but many others began loudly objecting to McCain’s comments. CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien called it “a little bit of heckling.” Watch it:
O’Brien also noted that when McCain first emerged and greeted the crowd, there were some cheers, but there were also “some loud boos.”