House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi praised former President George H.W. Bush as she spoke Monday evening on potentially hostile turf at the former president's government school at conservative-leaning Texas A&M University.
"It's a great privilege to spend President's Day with President George Bush," Pelosi said to applause. "His name and his presidency are synonymous with the word `civility."' She added that civility was "something badly needed" today.
Pelosi called Bush a "strong president, confident to speak of a kinder, gentler America." And she hailed him for his work with former President Bill Clinton, raising money for disaster recovery in Haiti and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She also complimented his having the courage to skydive while in his 80s.
The California liberal was greeted warmly as she appeared to an overflow crowd of more than 600 people in what was billed as a conversation moderated by the George H.W. Bush School of Government's acting dean, Andrew Card. Card was deputy chief of staff during the Republican Bush's White House years and was chief of staff when Bush's son, George W. Bush was president.
George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were in the front row at the event in College Station. Bush invited Pelosi to participate
The 71-year-old Pelosi lost her post as the nation's first female House speaker when the GOP took over the House in the 2010 elections. Pelosi's first full House term coincided with the elder Bush's election as president in 1988. Beginning 12 years later, when George W. Bush, went to the White House, she was in the Democratic leadership during much of his two terms. In 2008, as his second term wound down, Pelosi described the younger Bush as "a total failure" who had lost all credibility with the American people.
The Bush School of Government and Public Service regularly has hosted political leaders from the U.S. and abroad and A&M officials said it wasn't unusual for Bush to invite political adversaries. "Every now and then he throws a curve ball to keep it interesting," university spokesman Tom Hughes said. In 2008, Bush raised eyebrows when he selected frequent Bush critic, liberal Democratic U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, to receive an annual Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. Other recipients of his award have included former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former President Ronald Reagan and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.