Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 21, 2014

‘Tip’ Gets Top Spot on Capitol Hill

Last week, to mark what would have been Tip O’Neill’s upcoming 100th birthday, a pine oak tree was planted outside the Capitol. On Wednesday, the House voted to name a building in his honor.

Naming the federal office building at the intersection of Second and C streets Southwest after the Massachusetts Democrat wasn’t a hard sell for lawmakers: They gave voice vote approval to the measure jointly sponsored by House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Tip might have had one small complaint about today’s occasion: A proud partisan, Tip relished nothing more than a close vote, one that would give him a chance to do just a last bit of … wrangling as he tried to secure the vote,” Boehner said Wednesday before the vote.  “When the roll is called on this bill, however, the outcome is likely to be unanimous.”

Remembered for his decadelong tenure as speaker, his fiery, progressive politics and his ability to broker deals on both sides of the aisle, O’Neill served in Congress from 1963 to 1987. He died in 1994.

The O’Neill family approached Pelosi about a year ago to talk about what could be done to honor his memory as his 100th birthday rolls around Dec. 9, according to his son Kip. The family has maintained strong ties with Capitol Hill over the years, and Catlin O’Neill — daughter of Kip and granddaughter of Tip — serves as chief of staff in Pelosi’s personal office.

“What we’d had in mind was the tree,” Kip O’Neill, an attorney, told Roll Call. “Then they approached us about the building, which was beyond what anybody had in mind. We were thrilled, tickled with it, and I can think of no higher honor.”

The placement of the much-loved congressman’s namesake building is also significant, Boehner and Pelosi noted in their remarks on Wednesday.

“We all know his best-known phrase: ‘All politics is local,’” Boehner said. “It’s certainly true today as we propose to name a building right here at the foot of Capitol Hill, a stone’s throw from this great dome, in honor of our 55th speaker.”

“It is fitting that the Tip O’Neill Jr. Federal Building will stand alongside the office building named for his dear friend and public servant, former President Gerald Ford,” Pelosi added. “They’ll be neighbors.”

Though lawmakers praised the bipartisan spirit with which the bill was brought to the floor, with the exception of Boehner, the only speakers on the measure’s behalf were Democrats and colleagues of O’Neill’s.

“For those who didn’t have the pleasure to know Mr. O’Neill, I’d like to remind everybody,” said Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass., who now holds O’Neill’s seat and was tapped as the Democratic manager for the bill. “I didn’t look at him as an historic figure up on the podium. I look at him as a man I knew a fair amount of my adult life anyway, as a man who never forgot where he came from.”

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