The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House GOP stalls measure that would strip Rep. John Lewis of Navy ship naming

The Navy announced in January that it would name a ship after Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), seen here in a file photo. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A House Republican introduced a measure Tuesday that would prevent the U.S. Navy from naming ships after lawmakers who have not served in the military or as president.

The measure would have prevented civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis and former Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin from receiving the honor but a House committee decided to pass up the opportunity to give the measure a vote in the full House.

The naming of ships or other government facilities after lawmakers sometimes has been controversial in recent years. Lewis’s status as a civil rights icon, which the Navy cited in its announcement, could have added more tension to the issue.

“Naming this ship after John Lewis is a fitting tribute to a man who has, from his youth, been at the forefront of progressive social and human rights movements in the U.S., directly shaping both the past and future of our nation,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement in January.

But Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) said believes the naming of ships should be reserved for former presidents, war heroes and people who have served in the military, which neither Lewis (D-Ga.) nor Levin (D-Mich.) did.

“My amendment has nothing — absolutely zero — to do with John Lewis or any other member of Congress,” Palazzo said in a statement.

The measure was introduced as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill scheduled to be debated in the House this week. The proposal would have prevent the Pentagon from using any federal funds to name ships for “any member of Congress, living or deceased, unless such member served as the President of the United States or as a member of the Armed Forces.”

Members of the House Rules Committee decided Tuesday evening not to include the Palazzo proposal in a package of amendments that will get a vote in the full House to vote later this week.

Lewis could not immediately be reached for comment and other Democrats declined to comment on the record.

The ship naming process has been a hot-button issue in some GOP circles in the recent past. Mabus, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009, has been criticized for bending traditions to name ships for figures including civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and former Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived an assassination attempt at a 2011 event in her district.

Earlier this year, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) wrote Mabus questioning the naming of a ship after Levin for reasons similar to those Palazzo has raised, according to DefenseNews.

The Navy rarely names ships for living persons. Since 1973, around 20 U.S. military ships have been named for people who were alive and six have been announced since January 2012, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Ship naming traditions have changed over time and the process is now largely left to the discretion of the secretary of the Navy, according to a 2016 report from the Navy.

“Exceptions made for the purpose of naming ships for Presidents or Members of Congress have occurred frequently enough that, rather than being exceptions, they constitute a ‘special cross-type naming convention’ for Presidents and Members of Congress,” the report said.