PEORIA, Ill. (AP & WGN) — Funeral services will be held this morning for former Republican House leader Bob Michel.
He served as leader of the Republican House minority for 14 years and was skilled at seeking compromise critical in getting many initiatives of two Republican presidents through Congress.
Michel’s skill at seeking compromise with the Democrats was critical in helping Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush pursue their agendas during their presidential terms.
Michel served 19 terms in the GOP minority and retired one election too soon to be part of the GOP House majority that swept into power in 1994. He stood on the sidelines as an ebullient Newt Gingrich of Georgia took the role of House speaker. Gingrich praised Michel that day, but had considered him too pliable and conciliatory with the Democrats while he was Republican leader. But year after year, Michel had been faced with cutting deals with the Democratic majority. He admitted at a GOP fundraiser in 1994 that it was bittersweet to leave office just before Republicans took control of the House.
“There are times when I feel like a small boy who has dutifully eaten his spinach and broccoli but who leaves the dinner table before mom brings in the strawberry shortcake,” Michel told a crowd of Republicans. In one of the more ironic developments at the Capitol, the offices of the House speaker were dedicated to Michel, and called the Robert H. Michel Rooms.
Michel had announced in late 1993 that he would not seek another term, citing lost power under a Democratic administration and a new class of lawmakers making their careers by “trashing the institution.” In an interview after the 1994 election, Michel criticized the GOP’s “Contract With America,” saying its tax-cutting and defense spending provisions could actually worsen the budget deficit.
Throughout his service, Michel was seen as a gentleman who considered many Democrats and Republicans among his friends.
“He had many opponents, but no enemies,” former President Richard Nixon said in taped remarks to a crowd of Republicans paying tribute near the end of Michel’s time in Congress. And that was a big factor in his leadership style. “Ideological activists believe they know the truth and they don’t want to negotiate or compromise or even talk about compromise,” he once said. “But in the House the ability to strike a wise compromise is an essential part of leadership.”
Speaking to reporters at Michel’s visitation in Peoria, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “What I learned from him is that you have to take care of the people who put you in office. You have to remember the people who you go to Washington to serve.”
Michel died on February 17 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia. He was 93.