Robert Michael, Former Minority Leader In U.S. House, Dies At 93

Former Illinois representative Robert H. Michel has died at the age of 93. Bob Michel served the state of Illinois in the minority for nineteen terms, retiring one term too soon and missing the rise of the Republican Party to the majority in 1994, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Nevertheless, Politico reported that the former House Republican Leader worked tirelessly and faithfully to make his time there worthwhile and beneficial.

The news source explained that Michel was an aide to Ronald Reagan during his presidency, helping to “shepherd [Reagan’s] agenda through Congress.” However, this effort was “pushed aside by the rise of Newt Gingrich” the following decade. Bob Michel also worked with George H.W. Bush to forward his agenda. Politico claimed that Michel handled his responsibilities with “uncommon decency.”

Even when Gingrich took the floor as House speaker for the Republican party, Robert Michel stood aside to let him take the stage. Gingrich, however, had some issues with Michel’s methods and approach–but the period Newt ushered in is often viewed as one of the most destructive transitions in Congressional history.

“It’s difficult to overstate how much the transition from Michel to Gingrich in 1994 impacted first House Republicans and then all of Congress as the fabric of civility soon fell apart and both political parties became more polarized.”

Politico also reported that Thomas Mann, a longtime scholar of Congress, noted this stark transition.

“The shift from Michel to Gingrich [was] the beginning of our really dreadfully dysfunctional Congress and a politics that became so personal and negative and anti-institutional that it really changed the whole character of public life in this country.”

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan issued an official statement on Tuesday, according to Chicago Sun Times. In the statement, Ryan applauded Michael’s tireless service to the country.

Specifically, Paul Ryan referenced an instance in 1994. Outgoing House Speaker Tom Foley, a Democrat, asked outgoing Bob Michel to “take the gavel and preside over the House.” Ryan stated that this was no mere “symbolic gesture”–it was an effort to recognize a committed warrior and passionate representative.

Although the Republican party was the minority for the entirety of Michel’s time in the House, he consistently worked to boost morale and encourage his fellow representatives. The Washington Post reported that he also focused on rebuilding unity, but gently. He was not overly forceful, but still very successful.

“‘We try to build a feeling that the tough votes have to be spread around,’ he told The Washington Post in 1975. ‘If I have to, I go to a member and say, ‘Look, we’ve had six tough votes and you haven’t been with us once. You want to be part of the team or not?’”

His efforts to gently instill unity within and without the minority was not always appreciated. Some blamed him for giving way to the Democrats too often, for his willingness to compromise. These complaints often arose regarding his dealings with Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), Tom Foley of Washington state and Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois. Robert Michael also faced criticism for sometimes promoting a defeatist mentality, The Washington Post said, and Michel once admitted that he often reminded himself of his humble position.

“Every day I wake up and look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘Today you’re going to be a loser.’ And after you’re here a while, you’ll start to feel the same way. But don’t let it bother you. You’ll get used to it.”

While this attitude seems to have been more of a self-defense method than anything else, some disliked it and found it more harmful to the minority than helpful.

Overall, however, former House Leader Robert H. Michel has still been regarded over the years as a wonderful model of commitment, passion, party faithfulness and dedication. And, it seems, he will be remembered as such throughout the years to come.

[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]