WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 28: Former Senator Edward William Brooke (R-MA) speaks during a ceremony to honor him with the Congressional Gold Medal in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on October 28, 2009 in Washington, DC. Brooke, a two-term Republican senator from 1967-1979, was the first African-American elected to the senate by popular vote.
-----Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Congress honors former Sen. Brooke
First black man elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate receives medal
updated 2:16 p.m. CT, Wed., Oct . 28, 2009
WASHINGTON - With Democrats and Republicans engaged in a heated debate over health care, former Sen. Edward Brooke, the first black man elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate, pointedly suggested Wednesday that lawmakers put aside their partisan differences awhile.
At a Capitol ceremony honoring him, the 90-year-old Massachusetts Republican addressed a multitude of issues on Congress' plate in addition to health care: overseas wars, restoring the economy and providing Americans with adequate housing.
"We've got to get together," Brooke said, turning his eyes to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "We have no alternative. There's nothing left. It's time for politics to be put aside on the back burner."
Brooke was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress has to honor civilians for achievements and contributions to society.
Attending the ceremony, President Barack Obama called Brooke "a man who's spent his life breaking barriers and bridging divides across this country."
Brooke grew up in Washington and served in a segregated unit in the Army during World War II before entering the political arena and winning election to the Senate in 1966 as the first black senator since Reconstruction.
As senator, he took on the populist causes of low-income housing, increasing the minimum wage and mass transit before losing re-election in 1978. President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.
Obama said he followed the trail that Brooke blazed.
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(Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)