At one point during the twilight years in Congress for Rep. Bill Broomfield, R-Mich., I was in his office. Like most lawmakers, Broomfield had his so-called "vanity wall" — a parade of signed photographs of the powerful and famous.
A warmly inscribed portrait of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, dead for more than 20 years at the time, stood out. Then I spotted a string of photos of every president from Dwight Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush — all inscribed with more than "best wishes."
It dawned on me then — as it did when the former congressman died Feb. 20 at age 96 — William S. Broomfield was much more than the soft-spoken, silver-haired gentleman he appeared to be.
As ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee for 18 years (1974-92), the Michigan man played a role in all of the major foreign policy moves made by the Republican Party in Congress: from the unsuccessful fight to stop the Democratic majority in the House from cutting off aid to the South Vietnamese as the Communist North advanced on them, to Ronald Reagan's eventually successful efforts to win the Cold War against what he branded "the evil empire," to George H.W. Bush's winning battle against Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein in the first U.S. skirmish with another nation after the Cold War.
In lining up support for those endeavors and others, Broomfield operated gently and quietly. He never had a harsh word for Democrats on the other side of the House aisle and never took opposite positions personally.
"There was never a more kind, considerate, and truly gentle man to have served in Congress," former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who served with Broomfield, told Newsmax. "Anyone who knew Bill considered himself to be his friend and was the better for it."
Broomfield is probably best remembered as the senior Republican on the nationally televised Iran-contra hearings in 1987. In one of the last televised hearings in which Members were civil with one another and did not argue on camera, Congress investigated whether the Reagan administration sold arms to Iran and diverted proceeds to the anti-Communist contras in Nicaragua trying to overthrow its Marxist president — then and now — Daniel Ortega.
The Democratic majority on the committee concluded "the rule of law was subverted" and Reagan was responsible. The minority report, which Broomfield helped write, called the majority's findings "hysterical" and concluded there was "no constitutional crisis" and "no administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up."
Throughout the proceedings, Broomfield maintained his calm, soft-spoken demeanor. At one point, the AP photographed him playfully pretending to hit fellow committee member and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, on the head with a gavel.
Bill Broomfield never minded being called a "professional politician." He loved politics since he was elected class president while in high school in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Following service in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, Broomfield returned home to dabble in real estate. At age 26, he was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1948 by a wafer-thin 80 votes. Six years later, he moved on to the state senate. In both legislative chambers, the young Broomfield was a spirited conservative who often dueled with liberal Democratic Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams.
From 1932-56, the Oakland County area was represented in Congress by stalwart conservative Republican Rep. George Dondero. When Dondero, a strong backer of the anti-communist crusade of Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis., retired in 1956, Broomfield handily won his seat.
For the next 36 years, he almost never had trouble at the ballot box.
When Broomfield himself stepped down in 1992, he strongly endorsed close friend and Oakland County Republican Chairman Joe Knollenberg to succeed him. Knollenberg won a hard-fought primary over two opponents, in large part because of Broomfield's blessing.
"Rep. Broomfield was Michigan's longest-serving Republican House Member, just as [the late] John Dingell was our longest-serving Democratic House Member," recalled Ronna Romney, Michigan's former Republican National Committeewoman. "Like John Dingell, and Bill Broomfield had strong beliefs on which he wouldn't compromise but was always gracious toward others. With both of those fine men leaving us this year, we are reminded that they are the kinds of leaders we need to have again."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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