Congress heaps praise on the late President George H.W. Bush

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Lawmakers in both parties on Saturday mourned the news that former President George H.W. Bush had died at the age of 94, showering the former President in bipartisan praise for a political career which did not embrace some of the raw political battles so often a feature of American political discourse in recent years.

"George H.W. Bush may have been the only person ever elected President of the United States primarily by being nice," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who served as Secretary of Education under the 41st President.

"I learned so much from George H.W. Bush," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who worked for both Bush Presidents. "He was a steady hand, and a model of kindness and civility. He inspired all of us to be better."

"Courage, duty, honor, and compassion defined his life," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose state was home to the Bush family retreat so often used by the former President in Kennebunkport, Maine.

"He kept America safe as CIA Director. He represented us with skill as Ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, and Vice President," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"And as our forty-first president, George Bush brought clear-eyed, principled leadership to a nation and world in transition."

At a time when the current occupant of the White House spurs an extreme amount of passion in both parties, the elder Bush was a throwback to a time when Presidents had friendly colleagues in both political parties.

In one of his first meetings with Congressional leaders at the White House after becoming President in 1989, Mr. Bush interrupted the meeting and took the Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), into a side room for a private conversation.

"Can you believe it Danny?" Rostenkowski would later recount his former House colleague saying in an excited tone. "I'm President of the United States!"

Mr. Bush was the last World War II veteran to serve in the military and then ascend to the White House; his signature story was how he was shot down over the Pacific, and then rescued from a life boat by an American submarine in the area.

President Bush first came to Washington after being elected to Congress from Texas in 1966, and served for two terms.

After an ill-fated run for Senate in 1970, President Nixon made Mr. Bush the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

In 1976, Mr. Bush was tapped to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Then in 1980, Mr. Bush ran for President - after a tough campaign against Ronald Reagan, the two men teamed up on the same ticket - despite some of their differences.

Mr. Bush served for eight years as Vice President before winning the White House in 1988, when he defeated Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.