Washington Watch: Parties come together for Rep. John Lewis

WASHINGTON -- Who can get political opposites such as Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Harry Reid, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Republican Rep. Eric Cantor all in the same room and talking nicely?

Apparently, Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta.

McConnell and Reid, along with Pelosi and Cantor, were just a few of the speakers at a Capitol Hill reception for Lewis after he was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom last Tuesday.

Though the political opposites may be quick to disparage each other and their respective parties in the halls of Congress, their remarks about Lewis -- a liberal luminary in the Democratic Party -- were nothing but apolitical and kind, at least temporarily shattering any divisions between politics, ideologies, race or religion.

Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, called Lewis, the Democrats' senior deputy whip in the House, an American hero.

"When we live and work among heroes, it inspires the rest of us to make courageous decisions," Cantor said.

"The brilliance of Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis was the way in which they aroused the conscience of our nation, the way they were able to spur Americans to live up to their highest principles," he added.

It was hard, however, to top the sentimentality of Democrat Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Marylander who calls Lewis his brother.

"No one that I know is more Christ-like than my brother John Lewis," Hoyer said. No one he knows, Hoyer added, "has made such a profound impact on his or her country than my brother John Lewis."

For his part, Lewis tried to remain as humble about his role in the civil rights movement, his paving the way for a black man to get elected president and his winning the nation's highest civilian honor.

"I just hope I played a little role, a small part, in helping move the process along," Lewis said.

Georgia's Republicans back in the seat of power

Republican Rep. John Boehner is speaker of the House, but with all his duties, he can't possibly preside over the House every minute of every day.

So instead, House members take turns serving as speaker pro tem, an honor that includes sitting in the big leather speaker's chair, wielding the big wooden gavel and overseeing the chaotic daily activities of the House floor.

The political party in charge gets to choose who runs the show, so the GOP hasn't occupied the speaker's chair since it lost control of the House in 2006.

All that changed with the Republican takeover of the House, and this past week, a couple of Georgians got their turn in the seat of power.

Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta was first, presiding over much of the morning session of the House on Wednesday as it ground through hundreds of budget amendments.

Immediately following Gingrey was Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, making it a rare back-to-back doubleheader for House members from the same state. Price ran through another round of amendments with machinelike precision.

Staffers for both Price and Gingrey say it wasn't Georgia Day at the House or anything like that.

The unusual lineup, they said, was purely coincidental.

What I learned while in Washington

Two years ago, just a week or so before President Barack Obama's inauguration, I came to Washington for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after nearly a decade as a national reporter for Cox Newspapers.

Next week will be my last, as I've accepted a job as senior press secretary with a major environmental nonprofit group.

Like taking an immersion course in a foreign land, I've learned a lot about how Washington works as the AJC's correspondent here.

I've learned how government and politics work, yes. But I've also learned that -- like anywhere and with anything -- the people who run our country are just people, not unlike you and me.

There are those who are truly here to try to do some good for the public and our country. There are others who are here primarily for politics, whose main mission is advancing their party's ideologies and getting re-elected.

You probably know the difference when you see and hear and read about them. And yes, there are those within Georgia's delegation that fall into either category.

As someone who has been lucky enough to have a front-row seat in Washington for the past couple of years, I've learned the difference.

As a voter, I've discovered that my vote really does matter.

And as a journalist for more than two decades, I hope there will always be somebody whose job it is to help sort it all out for us, so we can decide for ourselves if it's what we really want.