Robert H. Michel

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Robert H. Michel
Robert H. Michel--95th Congress.png
House Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1995
Deputy Trent Lott (1981–1989)
Dick Cheney (1989)
Newt Gingrich (1989–1995)
Preceded by John Jacob Rhodes
Succeeded by Dick Gephardt
House Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1981
Leader John Jacob Rhodes
Preceded by Leslie C. Arends
Succeeded by Trent Lott
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois' 18th district
In office
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by Harold Himmel Velde
Succeeded by Ray LaHood
Personal details
Born Robert Henry Michel
(1923-03-02) March 2, 1923 (age 99)
Peoria, Illinois
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Corinne Woodruff (1948–2003)
Children Scott, Bruce, Robin, Laurie
Education Bradley University
Profession Politician
Religion Presbyterianism

Robert Henry "Bob" Michel (pronounced "Michael"; born March 2, 1923) is an American Republican Party politician who was a member of the United States House of Representatives for 38 years. He represented central Illinois' 18th congressional district, and was the GOP leader in Congress, serving as Minority Leader for 14 years (1981–1995) during an era of Democratic Party House dominance.

He was also Minority Whip for 6 years (1975–1981). A graduate of Bradley University in Illinois, he was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois.

Early life

Michel was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, where he attended Peoria High School.

Military service

When the Second World War broke out, he joined the United States Army and served with the 39th Infantry regiment as an infantryman in England, France, Belgium, and Germany from February 10, 1943, to January 26, 1946, while also participating in the Invasion of Normandy in 1944. He was wounded by machine gun fire and awarded two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, and four battle stars.[1]

Education and early career

After the war, he attended Bradley University in Peoria, graduating in 1948. From 1949 to 1956, he worked as an administrative assistant to U.S. Representative Harold Velde.[2]

Electoral career

Michel as Minority Leader

During his 38 years in the House, although Michel was never part of the majority party, he nonetheless was noted for his bipartisanship in striking bargains. Michel was well respected across the aisle and was good friends with Democrats such as Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill and Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski.[3]

He was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956 and served until his retirement on January 3, 1995.[4] Michel served as Minority Whip from 94th Congress through the 96th Congress.[5] Michel served from 1959 to 1980 as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, including 12 years as the ranking Republican on the Labor, Health, Education and Welfare Subcommittee. Later, he served as Minority Leader from the 97th Congress through 103rd Congresses.[6]

His toughest re-election was probably during the 1982 midterms, when he was in a tight race due to dissatisfaction over President Ronald Reagan's economic policies and the 1982 recession.[7] Reagan traveled to speak for him.[8]

Michel stirred a controversy in 1988 when he recalled enjoying and participating in blackface minstrel shows as a young man, and said he missed the shows.[9][10] He also compared the removal of racially offensive words in songs such as "Old Man River" to the Soviet re-writing of history.[9] He later apologized for having given offense, explaining that he was honestly attempting to understand and accept changes in U.S. culture.[9]

In the early 1990s, Michel was criticized by Newt Gingrich and other young, aggressive conservative congressmen for being too easy-going and not fighting hard enough for Republican goals in the House. Supporters said Michel's practice of socializing with Democrats over a game of golf or card resulted in deals that moved bills through the legislative process.[11] It was also noted that Michel's voting was nearly as conservative as Gingrich's.[11]

In 1993 Michel gave the rebuttal to President Bill Clinton's first State of the Union speech, criticizing the economic policies of the newly inaugurated president. "The Clinton spin doctors have even given us a new political vocabulary, if you will – investment now means big government spending your tax dollars. Patriotism now means agreeing with the Clinton program. The powerful evocative word, sacrifice, has been reduced to the level of a bumper sticker slogan", he said.[12] He was later criticized for obstructing Clinton's economic stimulus plan.[11]

As a result of Gingrich's rising prominence which gradually attracted support from the caucus, Michel decided not to seek re-election in the 1994 mid-term elections.[13] Had Michel run in the 1994 elections and won, he would have served in a Republican-controlled House for the first time in his entire Congressional career. However the caucus would have likely favored Gingrich over Michel as Speaker of the House, due to Gingrich's central role in the Republican Revolution. In announcing his retirement, Michel complained that some of his fellow congressmen were more interested in picking fights than in passing laws.[11]

Gingrich had a confrontational style, which contrasted sharply with Michel's bipartisanship, but Republicans retained the majority during his term. Gingrich's successor as Speaker, Dennis Hastert, had stated his desire to return to Michel's style.[14]

Several years after Michel retired from Congress, his successor, Ray LaHood, praised him. Michel "knew warfare first hand", he said. "That is the reason he never used the macho phrases like 'warfare' and 'take no prisoners' when discussing politics with his staff. To Bob, the harsh, personal rhetoric of ideological warfare had no place in his office, no place in the House, and no place in American politics."[15]

Namesakes and honors

On January 18, 1989, outgoing president Ronald Reagan conferred upon him the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award given, making him the 7th recipient of the honor.[16] On August 8, 1994, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President Bill Clinton.[17] He was one of the recipients of the first Congressional Distinguished Service Award in 2000, along with John Rhodes, Louis Stokes, and Don Edwards. This honor was created by then-Speaker Dennis Hastert and then-Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.[18][19] In 2010, he was given the Schachman Award by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.[2] The Society commended him for his post-congressional work in increasing public and congressional support for the National Institutes of Health which contributed to the doubling of the NIH's budget.[2]

During the 1960s Michel was a frequent winning pitcher in the annual Democrats vs. Republicans baseball game, and in 1993, the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, named him to its Baseball Hall of Fame.[20][21]

In 1994, Michel received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[22]

The Bob Michel Bridge, carrying Illinois Route 40 across the Illinois River at Peoria, is named after Robert H. Michel[23] as is the Robert H. Michel Student Center at Bradley University.[24] In the United States Capitol, the second-floor suite of offices occupied by the Speaker were designated the Robert H. Michel Rooms by the House in 1995.[25] At the Capitol Hill Club located adjacent to the Republican National Committee, the cloak room is named for Bob Michel. In Peoria, Illinois, the VA Clinic is named the Bob Michel Community Based Outpatient Clinic.[26] The Robert H. Michel Lifetime Achievement Award is presented by the Creve Coeur Club of Peoria each year at the Club's Washington Day Banquet to recognize community leadership.[27]

Personal life

Michel was married to Corinne Woodruff (Michel) from 1948 until her death in 2003. The couple had four children, Scott, Bruce, Robin, and Laurie.

In 1978 he required hospital treatment after he was robbed and beaten by youths outside his Washington, D.C. home.[28][29] One perpetrator was caught and convicted in juvenile court of assault on a member of Congress and assault with intent to rob.[29]


  1. "Timeline, Highlights in the Career of Robert H. Michel". The Dirksen Congressional Center. Retrieved July 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Former Minority Leader Bob Michel to Receive Schachman Award". American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Press release). August 5, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Lawmakers Seek Compromise On Benefits For Jobless". Gadsden (Alabama) Times. The Associated Press. October 28, 1991.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Michel Departs With Warning". Middleboro (Kentucky) Daily News. November 26, 1994.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Michel New Republican House Leader". Virgin Islands Daily News. December 9, 1980.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Adam Clymer (October 5, 1993). "Michel, GOP House Leader, to Retire". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "1st-term Republicans feeling extra pressure". Chicago Tribune. October 11, 1982. p. A3. Retrieved August 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Jim Kuhn (2004). Ronald Reagan in Private. New York: Penguin Group. p. 106. 1-59523-008-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 White U.S. Rep. Apologizes For His Blackface Remarks. Jet magazine. December 5, 1988. p. 14. Retrieved August 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Eric Lott (1995). Love and theft: blackface minstrelsy and the American working class. Oxford University Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-19-509641-X. Retrieved August 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Nice-Guy Bob Michel will be missed". The Milwaukee Journal. October 6, 1993. Retrieved July 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "State of the Union Response: A Brief History". NPR – Morning Edition. January 23, 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Walter Mears (January 6, 1995). "Michel Sees Changing Of Guard". Lodi News-Sentinel.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Mike Dorning (January 10, 1999). "Hastert Tips His Hat to Mentor Michel". Chicago Tribune.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. David Broder (August 1, 2007). "The House Can't Hold On To LaHood". Times-Union reprint of Washington Post. Retrieved July 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Medal Time". Orlando Sentinel. January 18, 1989.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Susan Gregory Thomas (August 9, 1994). "Hail From the Chief; Clinton Gives Medal of Freedom to Nine Citizens". The Washington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. David Broder (July 14, 2003). "House honors bipartisan spirits". The Washington Post. Published in the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Biography, Robert H. Michel". Retrieved January 23, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Seth Stern (July 12, 2011). "Hall of Fame: Mel Watt Lives His Dream".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Gary Gumpert and Susan J. Drucker (2002). Take me out to the ballgame: communicating baseball. pp. 346–7. Retrieved July 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Newspaper column". Bloomington Panatagraph. June 11, 1990.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Virtual Campus Tour". Bradley University web site. Retrieved August 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Carl Hulse (November 22, 2006). "Congressional Memo; Spoils of Prime Office Space Go to the Democratic Victors". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Larger Facility to Replace Bob Michel Clinic". U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Press release). September 30, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Creve Coeur Club honors Glen Barton". Peoria Journal-Star. February 23, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Rep. Michel Is Beaten". The Telegraph-Herald. Dubuque, IA. United Press International. July 23, 1978. Retrieved August 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Guilt ruled in assault". The Spokesman Review. Spokane, WA. The Associated Press. September 30, 1978. Retrieved August 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Harold H. Velde
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 18th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ray LaHood
Party political offices
Preceded by
Leslie C. Arends
House Minority Whip
House Republican Whip

Succeeded by
Trent Lott
Preceded by
John J. Rhodes
House Republican Leader
Succeeded by
Dick Armey
House Minority Leader
Succeeded by
Dick Gephardt