Memorial for Foley Brings Partisans Together, If Only Briefly

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 29: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) participate in a memorial service for former House Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA) at the U.S. Capitol October 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama and members of Congress gathered for a Congressional Memorial Service celebrating the life of former House Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA) who died on October 18. 
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Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
Oct. 29, 2013, 6:07 p.m.

The Cap­it­ol me­mori­al Tues­day for former House Speak­er Tom Fo­ley, D-Wash., at­trac­ted testi­mo­ni­als from friends, polit­ic­al ad­versar­ies, and fel­low Demo­crats who knew Fo­ley well — and one who didn’t know him per­son­ally, Pres­id­ent Obama. All shared their deep re­spect for the man who helped get Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s budget through, helped force Pres­id­ent George H.W. Bush to back down on his no-new-taxes pledge, and then lost his seat in 1994 after a 30-year ca­reer.

Fo­ley died this month at the age of 84.

Such ce­re­mo­ni­al mo­ments don’t hap­pen too of­ten in the Cap­it­ol, and when they do, they make for weird op­tics; power­ful people who con­stantly trade barbs with each oth­er are forced to sit right next to each oth­er in a very pub­lic space, wear­ing sul­len or dig­ni­fied faces and of­fer­ing the warm words that such oc­ca­sions de­mand.

Sit­ting just feet away from the po­di­um were three of Fo­ley’s suc­cessors: former Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, R-Ga., House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., and cur­rent Speak­er John Boehner, R”‘Ohio. Also in at­tend­ance were Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden, former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton, and former Vice Pres­id­ent Wal­ter Mondale.

Fo­ley’s me­mori­al provided an op­por­tun­ity to as­sess what it takes to run the House, a touchy top­ic giv­en that Con­gress has just come off a pro­longed gov­ern­ment shut­down and a bit­ter fight that brought the na­tion to the brink of de­fault.

When re­call­ing how Fo­ley be­came speak­er in 1989, Rep. Jim Mc­Der­mott, D-Wash., said, “I know now that he was about to be­come the last speak­er of the whole House. He be­lieved that the speak­er was the speak­er for the whole House, and he be­lieved that to his very core.”

Mc­Der­mott ad­ded: “He led the House with fair­ness and comity, a style of lead­er­ship we haven’t seen — we’ve re­cently looked for, but we have not seen what Tom was able to do with both sides.”

Still, Fo­ley was first speak­er since the Civil War to lose reelec­tion. His loss was one of the touch­stones of the 1994 Re­pub­lic­an takeover of the House.

Former House Minor­ity Lead­er Robert Michel, R-Ill., re­called how Fo­ley had ini­tially sug­ges­ted they meet weekly “to talk about the af­fairs of the House,” something that just didn’t hap­pen in the House.

“We were, I guess, pu­pils of the old school,” Michel said. “We both took great pride in know­ing we made things hap­pen, that we found good ways to solve dif­fi­cult prob­lems, and that we made the House a work­ing in­sti­tu­tion.”

Then Michel turned to the por­trait next to the stage in Statu­ary Hall.

“I only hope that the le­gis­lat­ors who now walk through here each day, so con­sumed by the here and now, will feel his spir­it, learn from it, and be humbled by it,” Michel said.

As the ce­re­mony con­cluded, the Fo­ley fam­ily, Obama, Biden, and oth­ers quickly ex­ited through a side door. House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., briskly walked out to­ward the House, trailed by se­cur­ity de­tail. And a wo­man in a green jack­et weaved through the crowd of law­makers chat­ting with each oth­er, to eagerly snap pho­tos of that por­trait.

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