Hundreds of people packed into the Capitol Rotunda yesterday to honor Edward Brooke, the Massachusetts politician who in 1967 became the first black senator since Reconstruction. Now 90, Brooke was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the legislature's highest honor. Sitting to his right was another trailblazer—President Obama, who had never met Brooke before but who embraced him tightly.
Brooke said he was particularly pleased his honor came on the day Obama signed into law hate crime protection for gays and lesbians, a cause he has advocated for decades. Many of the speakers noted how the Republican senator had fans ranging from Barney Frank to George W. Bush, and Brooke used his bipartisan appeal when he addressed Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and called for an end to obstructionism. "We've got to get together," Brooke said to applause. "We have no alternative."