Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that President Nixon was impeached. He resigned before he could be impeached. It also said that George Washington was born in Philadelphia. He was born in Virginia. This version has been corrected.
Human rights, religious freedom, STEM education and George Washington’s birthday.
Even though he’s set to retire in January after 34 years in Congress, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R), of Virginia’s 10th District, continues to advocate for legislative action in matters he cares about most, including an accurate federal celebration of the first president.
After an unsuccessful attempt in 2011, Wolf was able to get his recent amendment to move Presidents’ Day back to Feb. 22 — George Washington’s birthday — approved by the House Appropriations Committee. If approved by the Senate, it would take effect in 2017.
“It’s something that’s important for the future of the country,” Wolf said in an interview at his Capitol Hill office.
When Wolf announced his retirement in December, spokesman Dan Scandling said his office saw a “tremendous amount of turnover” in most if not all positions. Even with the changes, Wolf has shown no signs of slowing down in his congressional duties, especially when it comes to fighting for the federal holiday.
The congressman has spent a “fair amount of time” working to restore Feb. 22 as the federal holiday celebrating Washington, including cultivating historic research to support his effort, Scandling said. Wolf collaborated with historians from across the United States and groups such as the nonprofit Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which preserves Washington’s Virginia estate.
Wolf acknowledged that the amendment is not a capstone project for his three-plus decades in Congress, but he still cares about seeing it through. The commitment seems out of place among his efforts advocating for human rights and religious freedom around the world, but it’s still a priority on an agenda that has remained full with just months to go until his retirement.
“It’s just part of what he does day in and day out,” Scandling said.
President Rutherford B. Hayes established Washington’s birthday in 1879 as a holiday for the District’s federal workers, Wolf said. The holiday was extended to all federal workers six years later, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it was moved to the third Monday of February as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Although the holiday is still legally recognized as Washington’s Birthday, it’s come to be known as Presidents’ Day, with several states honoring all presidents at once. Wolf said he abhors this “hijacking” because Washington’s birthday is honored equally with that of President Richard M. Nixon, who resigned from office in disgrace.
Wolf cited a quote from Abraham Lincoln to illustrate his point: “We are met to celebrate this day. Washington is the mightiest name on Earth, long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty, still mightiest in moral reformation.”
Although Wolf found support in the House Appropriations Committee, he said there is potential opposition from interest groups such as the tourism industry, for whom the three-day holiday weekend is important.
For Wolf, the cause is also personal.
Sitting in his office, he spoke of his geographical connection to the first president: Both have held office in Winchester.
Wolf sat across from a portrait of Washington hanging on a wood-paneled wall, which kept drawing his attention as he responded to questions.
Toward the end of the interview, he stared at it for a moment.
“First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen,” he said, quoting Henry Lee’s eulogy for Washington.