WASHINGTON (AP) — Former colleagues, family, and top officials of the Reagan administration flocked to the Capitol to pay tribute to former House Republican Leader Bob Michel as an uncommonly decent man whose brand of strong but civil leadership is in woefully short supply today.
Michel, who died last month at 93, was best known for helping usher former President Ronald Reagan's agenda through a Democratic-controlled House. He never served in the majority over 38 years in Congress and was ushered out when combative former Speaker Newt Gingrich grabbed the reins.
Michel was elected when Congress was populated by many World War II veterans and across-the-aisle friendships were common. He was remembered in the House's Statuary Hall by current and former lawmakers, who told stories of his grace, humor, toughness, and love of family, the Chicago Cubs, and his hometown of Peoria, Illinois.
"Bob was a man of his generation who knew far bigger tests," said former Vice President Dick Cheney, a protege of Michel's from his service in the House. "He knew what a real fight was like, what real loss was. And the dramas and reversals of politics are all a little bit more manageable."
The tribute was packed with many more of Michel's contemporaries than current members of the battle-hardened House. And some of the memories turned wistful, as Michel's brand of politics and service are rarely seen in today's Capitol.
"He never mistook politics for warfare, because he had seen real war," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., whom Michel embraced as a freshman congressman from a neighboring downstate Illinois district. "He showed us that consensus is not weakness. And principled, intelligent compromise is not capitulation; it is an integral part of our democracy."
In the audience were old hands, including Cheney, former Sen. Bob Dole., and former Secretary of State James Baker, who recalled Michel's crucial role in passing the 1986 tax reform bill.
"In what now seems to be a long-lost approach to governance, Bob would prefer to reach across the aisle than battle across the aisle," Baker recalled.