“I’ll get through this,” the Republican Congressman said, his voice cracking and his eyes starting to well up. “The pain of losing her was very real.”
The lawmaker choked back a tear. He blew his nose before finishing his remarks. He then took a seat next to the Democratic Congresswoman who gave him a fond look. She affectionately put her arm around her colleague’s shoulder to comfort him.
After all, the Congressman and Congresswoman were standing at the water’s edge.
During the Cold War, it was often said that partisan politics stopped at the “water’s edge.” Of course, the Democrats and Republicans viewed the world through different prisms. But when it came to America’s foreign policy interests, those differences dissipated at the water’s edge.
There are few shorelines in American politics these days. Even in foreign policy. Take the rancor over the START treaty or debates over how to interrogate and try terrorism suspects.
But there is one coastline that remains unsullied in politics. One last beach that’s pristine and pure.
It’s the littoral of public service. Service to country. Service for a cause.
Which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) consoled House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) Thursday afternoon.
Pelosi and Boehner spoke at a ceremony honoring Boehner’s late Chief of Staff Paula Nowakowski and former House Legislative Counsel Pope Barrow with the McCormack Award for Excellence. Named after former House Speaker John McCormack (D-MA), Pelosi described the accolade as “the highest honor that Members of Congress can bestow upon those who make progress and reasonable compromise possible.”
Nowakowski was Boehner’s most-trusted confidant. She died unexpectedly of a heart attack earlier this year at the age of 46. Revered by Republicans and Democrats alike, Nowakowski’s death sent shockwaves across Capitol Hill.
“So many people from across the aisle and across the Capitol praised her leadership and service to our country, spoke of her with great affection, and certainly, with great admiration,” Pelosi said of Nowakowski, her voicing cracking slightly. “Paula proudly served with Leader Boehner and devoutly stood by her conservative principles. But Paula also knew, as John indicated, that serving our nation, not any particular party, must be the center of our work here.”
Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are partisan warriors. So it’s rare that the two appear together and share much emotion. In fact, Pelosi stopped by Boehner’s office so the duo could walk into the ceremony together. She even collected three of Boehner’s signature golf tees and showed them to the crowd.
“It says GOP Leader John Boehner,” Pelosi announced, drawing a laugh.
When it came time to recognize Pope Barrow, Pelosi even gave him one of Boehner’s golf tees.
“Perhaps I could sell them on eBay,” Barrow quipped.
“There’s two more here,” suggested Pelosi without missing a beat.
In the ceremony, Pelosi and Boehner feted two individuals who toiled in Congressional obscurity. But there was something very revealing about the ceremony honoring Nowakowski and Barrow. The speaker and minority leader may fight like hockey players over policy and politics. But at the end of the day, they both want what’s best for the country. They just have radically different ideas about how to reach that goal.
The public usually only sees are the brutal scraps and partisan fights that score the headlines. And they scarcely catch a glimpse of what makes the two most powerful leaders in the country very human as they mourn the loss of a valuable public servant.
However, despite the tender moments between Pelosi and Boehner, Thursday was a very partisan day on Capitol Hill. That partisanship just ended at the water’s edge.
Just a few hours before, Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) just couldn’t help himself.
In fact, he said as much when I asked a contingent of Ohio Democrats to explain the stark contrasts between their economic and tax policies and those belonging to Boehner and the Republicans.
Democrats from Ohio’s Congressional delegation called a press conference in the House Radio-TV Gallery Thursday to assert that their plans had lowered taxes and bolstered the sagging economy. But Republicans, and particularly Boehner, argued to the contrary.
“I just can’t help myself,” Driehaus said, itching to get to the lectern to lambaste the Republican leader. “As the member next door to John Boehner, I can tell you I get requests every day from Butler county, that he represents. From the people of Middletown, Hamilton who are in desperate straits and can find no support from their member of Congress.”
Driehaus went on to declare his neighboring Congressman “part of the misinformation campaign” and suggested that Boehner “spends little time” in the Buckeye State.
But Driehaus was just one figure in a troika of Ohio Democrats who threw haymakers at
their state’s leading political figure.
“Where was he during the Bush Administration?” asked Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) about Boehner as the country piled on the debt. “All of a sudden they have religion about the deficit?”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) railed on Boehner for making “demagogic appeals” to members of the tea party.”
But Boehner and his staff would have none of the internecine warfare.
“You have to almost feel sorry for Ohio Democrats,” said Boehner spokesman Corey Fritz. “They’ve chosen to embrace pork-barreling, ultra-liberal leaders in Washington who have forced them to walk the plank by voting against their constituents again and again.”
And Boehner later opened fire on Driehaus, Kaptur and Brown on his own.
“These Democrats have the same attitude that Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid have,” Boehner said. “Washington knows best.”
Driehaus faces one of the toughest re-election contests in the country this fall. And it’s probably a calculation by Boehner to try to associate Driehaus with Pelosi. The speaker is a radioactive figure, especially in a swing state like Ohio. And the GOP leader knows that linking the moderate Driehaus with the liberal Speaker of the House won’t go over well in the Skyline Chili parlors and Kroger checkout lines that dot the west side of Cincinnati.
You see, that’s politics. Well within the interior provinces that serve as an arena for political brawls and fisticuffs.
And at least a day trip from the water’s edge where Pelosi and Boehner met Thursday afternoon in an emotional ceremony to honor two distinguished public servants.