The Passing of an Era

| October 21, 2013 | 0 Comments

Speaker Tom Foley

Former House Minority Leader, Bob Michel, had a very touching remembrance of former Speaker Tom Foley in today’s Washington Post. He starts the piece with this incident:

Try as he might, Speaker Tom Foley could not gavel the House to order. It was Nov. 29, 1994, the last day of the 103rd Congress. I had just offered a resolution honoring him, and the speaker was being given a standing ovation for his 30 years of service. Our fellow members would not sit or quiet down.

It was a fitting tribute to a great public servant who assumed the mantle of leadership in the House at a difficult time.

Tom had just been defeated for reelection, and I was retiring. In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and comity, Tom invited me to assume the chair on the speaker’s podium while he gave his farewell address. For the first time in 40 years, a Republican presided over the House, if only for a few minutes.

I was there. I was chief of staff to Rep. Steny Hoyer, then Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, and I was on the House floor to witness it. I remember it vividly, particular the gesture of Foley inviting Michel to hold the gavel and sit in the Speaker’s chair. Michel was clearly stunned. There wasn’t a dry eye in the House. He sat on the edge of the seat like a kid who knows he’s not supposed to be sitting in a grownup’s chair. It was enormously touching.

I also remember wondering whether such an outpouring of respect and affection would accompany Newt Gingrich’s retirement. I concluded such a thing would be impossible, which turned out to be prescient as Gingrich was run out of the office by his own conference only a few years later.

As I look back, it is clear that that was the moment when everything changed in the U.S. House. Foley and Michel were strong partisans, but were friends. Never since has there been any similar relationship by leaders across the aisle and, after each election, it gets progressively worse. And, past readers of the blog will not be surprised that I blame it all on the Republicans, who value power more than the integrity of the institution.

Very sad.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Politics

Leave a Reply