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Former House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., had a reputation during his 38 years in office for working across the aisle to get things done.
From 1957 until his retirement in 1995, Michel worked with his Democratic counterparts to strike deals and pass legislation, a trait that earned him criticism from fellow Republicans such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
But Michel made sure — despite the criticism from his party brethren — to keep his commitment to bipartisanship even after his retirement in 1995.
Following his exit from Congress, Michel joined the lobby shop Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells) and teamed up with former Rep. Paul G. Rogers, D-Fla., to lobby Congress to double the amount of research funding awarded to the National Institutes of Health, a goal the bipartisan pair achieved.
“Since I was involved in a lot of health issues, the big issue at that time was doubling the research out of NIH,” Michel said. “So Paul Rogers, a Democratic member who had retired and with whom I worked closely with, was here at the firm and the two of us really combined to lobby members of Congress to get that done. That was our big project and we did it, we doubled the research funding within five years.”
After accomplishing his lobbying goal, Michel and his wife, Corinne, sold their longtime home in Peoria, Ill., and moved full time to their home on Capitol Hill with plans to travel and accomplish the goals in their life that had been put on hold while Michel served in Congress.
But shortly after the move in 2003, Corinne died. Michel decided to stay in his Capitol Hill home, where he resides to this day, not far from the place he devoted most of his adult life to serving.
The World War II veteran — who happens to be in CQ Roll Call’s Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame — said he still follows politics and is often perplexed at the behavior of current members of Congress.
“I have to sometimes shake my head and just say, ‘My God,’” Michel said. “It is a far different place than it was in those days.”
For his 90th birthday earlier this month, Michel’s family threw him a birthday bash at the Capitol Hill Club featuring a guest list that included Speaker John A. Boehner and former Speakers Nancy Pelosi, J. Dennis Hastert, Thomas S. Foley and Gingrich, former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
“It was awful nice of them and I was most appreciative,” Michel said, true to his gentleman’s reputation. “It was a grand affair.”