Talk about a bygone era! The 90th birthday party for former House Minority Leader Bob Michel Tuesday brought together Democrats and Republicans in a spirit of old-fashioned, bipartisan goodwill.
“My gosh,” the birthday boy told us Wednesday. “That was something extraordinary!”
The Illinois Republican, who served in Congress for 38 years, was best known for his laid-back style and willingness to reach across the aisle to Democrats. Although conservative, he was pushed aside in the early 1990’s by Newt Gingrich, who accused Michel of not being partisan enough.
So guess who was among the 300 guests at the Capitol Hill Club? Gingrich, along with Speaker John Boehner and former Speakers Tom Foley, Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi, who all made remarks. Gingrich praised Michel’s character, civility and skills as a legislator, calling him a mentor to all who followed.
The club was packed with former colleagues Trent Lott, John Dingell, Norm Dicks, Paul Laxalt, Bob Livingston and Steny Hoyer. Also, Chief Justice John Roberts, Don Rumsfeld and family and former staffers including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “His whole demeanor was one of a very steady course — never offend, and get things done,” said former chief of staff Mike Johnson. “Everyone could work with him.”
“It was so much easier to work when you were on good terms,” said Michel, who used to go head-to-head with Tip O’Neill on the floor “then we’d go back to our offices, have a brew and play gin rummy.” So old-fashioned — but they managed to get bills passed.
There was no unpleasant chatter about gridlock or the sequester — just more celebration for Michel, who officially turned 90 Saturday. Atypically, he didn’t spontaneously break into song. But Boehner performed his own birthday greeting: “Happy Birthday to you; this song is very short. Ha!” Later, LaHood led the entire crowd in the traditional caking and song, plus a round of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
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