Bush never for­got the Peo­ple’s House

The Norwalk Hour - - OPINION - For­mer Reps. Martin Frost and Charles Bous­tany are pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent of FMC, the as­so­ci­a­tion of For­mer Mem­bers of Congress.

As the trib­utes to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush pour in, cer­tain key words keep reap­pear­ing: Bi­par­ti­san. Gra­cious. Gen­tle­man. We saw him build that legacy, one small or large act at a time.

Now we’re the pres­i­dent and vice-pres­i­dent of the For­mer Mem­bers of Congress (FMC). But three decades ago, Martin was a House mem­ber from Texas the en­tire time pres­i­dent Bush served first as vice pres­i­dent and then as pres­i­dent. Charles was elected to Congress from Louisiana af­ter Bush’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer ended; how­ever, he has fol­lowed him closely over the years.

First, Bush was the last pres­i­dent who served as a mem­ber of the House of Representatives, though many of his pre­de­ces­sors (Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon and Ford) did too. That means he un­der­stood the dy­nam­ics of the Peo­ple’s House and what was re­quired to have his pro­gram en­acted into law.

Sec­ond, Bush was first and fore­most a gen­tle­man who did the lit­tle things to win friends across the aisle.

Martin re­mem­bers clearly how Bush he­li­coptered out of Walter Reed hos­pi­tal to present the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom to House Rules Chair­man Claude Pep­per, who was ter­mi­nally ill. Pep­per was revered by Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike for his work on be­half of se­nior cit­i­zens. The en­tire Florida del­e­ga­tion and all mem­bers of the Rules panel were present. Pep­per, 88, pulled him­self to­gether to give a 30-minute ac­cep­tance speech about his ca­reer, and then died four days later. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Fi­nally, Bush’s po­lit­i­cal bi­par­ti­san un­der­stand­ing was sec­ond to none. Ev­ery­one re­mem­bers how he put to­gether an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to win sup­port for a con­gres­sional res­o­lu­tion au­thor­ing the use of force against Sad­dam Hus­sein, af­ter he in­vaded Kuwait. It was a con­tro­ver­sial re­quest, but both Democrats and Repub­li­cans joined to­gether to pro­vide a bi­par­ti­san ma­jor­ity in fa­vor of the res­o­lu­tion.

When the Ber­lin Wall fell in late 1989, the House of Representatives es­tab­lished a spe­cial bi­par­ti­san task force to help the par­lia­ments of East­ern and Cen­tral Europe con­vert from com­mu­nism to democ­racy. The Bush State Depart­ment worked closely with this task force, fully sup­port­ing its work at ev­ery stage. There was never a ques­tion of what was good for Democrats or Repub­li­cans. The only ques­tion was what was good for Amer­ica.

When Bush was vice pres­i­dent, he of­ten trav­eled to the House gym in the Ray­burn Build­ing to play hand­ball. We knew he was there be­cause of the med­i­cal per­son­nel staged near the garage door in case any­thing hap­pened to him while play­ing. Both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can mem­bers of the House took great pride that the No. 2 per­son in the gov­ern­ment came to our build­ing to stay in shape.

Those bits of bi­par­ti­san­ship, whether po­lit­i­cal or per­sonal, are sorely missed along Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue. We wish fu­ture pres­i­dents would fol­low his lead in mak­ing it pos­si­ble for Democrats and Repub­li­cans to work to­gether on mat­ters big and small to make us a bet­ter coun­try.

Few agreed with Pres­i­dent Bush on all he did, but vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one ad­mired him. Let’s hope fu­ture pres­i­dents and mem­bers of the House and Se­nate learn some­thing from his re­mark­able life.

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