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Editor’s Note: Congress’ own river of life, in miniature

Beginnings, endings and what comes between on display

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., right, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., attend a ceremony for Army Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr., the last Korean War Medal of Honor recipient to die, as his remains lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on April 29.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., right, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., attend a ceremony for Army Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr., the last Korean War Medal of Honor recipient to die, as his remains lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on April 29. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It might not convey the gravity of Thomas Cole’s “Voyage of Life” paintings, but Congress showed a wide range of its members’ stages of life this past week, from election to compromise, from retrospection to commemoration.

On Tuesday New York state Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat, won a special election in Western New York’s 26th Congressional District, a vacancy created when Democrat Brian Higgins quit in February to become president and CEO of Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo. When Kennedy is sworn in, it will tilt the party margins to 217 Republicans and 213 Democrats, with five vacancies.

Earlier that day, compromise, a much-maligned but necessary part of growing up, manifested in the House.

It was the latest sign of an increasingly functional place (in relative terms, yes), with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., saying his caucus would not be a part of plunging the chamber into another chaotic game of jettisoning the speaker.

For weeks, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has threatened to move to vacate the chair, the same tactic that others used to depose her former ally, former Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Greene’s antipathy toward Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has grown as he has turned to Democrats to overwhelmingly pass bipartisan legislation, such as an aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as appropriations measures.

Jeffries and his leadership team, perhaps knowing Johnson might be as good as it gets, and that the speaker has not antagonized them as McCarthy did last year, said they would back Johnson (as would the vast majority of Republicans) — all but dooming Greene’s purity quest.

Greene said Wednesday she would storm the barricades anyway, getting everyone on record one way or the other. But an event that threatened to leave the United States without the person third in line to president for an indeterminate amount of time will be anticlimactic, a distraction if you will, at least for now.

Meanwhile, the White House arranged an end-of-week ceremony to recognize some of President Joe Biden’s longtime colleagues and allies with the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Vice President Al Gore, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. For the recipients, some of whom are not done with public service or electoral politics, it is nevertheless a recognition for decades of work and achievement in politics.

And finally, the commemoration of the end of life. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., D-N.J., who died on April 24, was laid to rest in his native Newark, N.J., on Thursday. The 65-year-old was first elected in 2012 in a special election triggered by the death of his own father, Rep. Donald M. Payne.

Payne’s funeral in the Garden State was the bookend to Monday’s memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda for Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., the last Korean War Medal of Honor recipient to die.

Beginnings, maturation, reflection, endings. It was all there.

Jason Dick is editor-in-chief of CQ Roll Call.

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