David Rogers writes in Politico:
“Former House Republican Leader Bob Michel, who helped shepherd Ronald Reagan’s agenda through Congress only to be pushed aside by the rise of Newt Gingrich a decade later, has died at the age of 93.
Elected first in 1956, the Illinois lawmaker spent 38 years in Congress — more than half in his party’s leadership. No House Republican has held the Republican leadership post longer, and Michel’s death is sure to trigger a host of memories, all the more relevant because of what Washington has become in the years since.
Indeed, 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.
“It’s day and night,” said Thomas Mann, a political scientist and long time student of Congress. “I see that transition — the shift from Michel to Gingrich — as 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.”
As Republican leader, Michel’s legislative skills were genuine, albeit often under-appreciated in a House dominated then by Democrats. But history is likely to remember him most for the man himself and what many saw as the uncommon decency he brought to his job.
His was a mix of grace, humor and battle-tested bravery rarely seen now in the Capitol. As a Republican, he didn’t shy from carpooling with the gruff Chicago Democrat Dan Rostenkowski, riding back-and-forth from Illinois overnight in a station wagon equipped with a mattress in the back for sleep breaks between turns at the wheel. He played golf with one Democratic speaker, and built a lasting friendship with another. But Michel also took his shots, including a remarkable vote in June 1981, when he stunned Democrats by effectively seizing control of the House long enough to dictate the terms for debate for Reagan’s budget cuts.”