In an effort to get Members thinking about the House as an institution, the chamber’s leaders are working on a plan to hold a series of lectures by prominent former lawmakers, likely beginning with ex-Minority Leader and later President Gerald Ford (R-Mich.).
“I think it’s going to be based on what the Senate does with their speakers series,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
The Senate Majority Leader has hosted guest lectures by distinguished alumni of that chamber for years.
“We’re looking at having prominent former Members of the House talk about the institution. The Speaker’s office inquired if President Ford may be interested in giving one of the first speeches,” Feehery added.
Ford traveled to Capitol Hill from his California home earlier this month to celebrate his 90th birthday. Only health concerns would keep him from returning to inaugurate the speakers series, according to a knowledgeable aide.
Former Speakers Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Tom Foley (D-Wash.) would also be likely participants.
The events could begin this fall, the aide said, and Ford would be “a great first draw” as a former president, a former House leader, and because he’s “a statesman kind of guy.” The hope is to bring ex-Members and spouses back for a “pretty special evening” — and one that’s also bipartisan.
Planning for the speakers series coincides with another leadership effort to bring an institutional, bipartisan spirit to the House.
Earlier this month the first-ever Distinguished Service Awards were given to former Reps. John Rhodes (R-Ariz.), Bob Michel (R-Ill.), Don Edwards (D-Calif.) and Louis Stokes (D-Ohio). The joint brainchild of Hastert and then-Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the award will be bestowed periodically to honor former House Members who performed their duties with extraordinary distinction.