Former U.S. Rep. Robert H. Michel of Illinois, a conservative Republican and genial politician who served as House minority leader for 14 years – a tenure marked, toward the end, by partisan rancor and intraparty warfare stoked by his firebrand successor, Newt Gingrich – died Friday at a hospital in Arlington, Virginia. He was 93.

The cause was pneumonia, said Mike Johnson, his former chief of staff. The former congressman was an Arlington resident.

Michel served as minority leader for seven terms, longer than anyone else in House history, aided in large part by his courtly, nonconfrontational leadership style. His amiable manner often led to his erroneous labeling as an ideological moderate, although by temperament he was pragmatic in a House that was Democratically controlled for the vast portion of his career.

In Congress from 1957 to 1995, Michel represented a heavily Republican district that included Peoria. He had spent much of his legislative career opposing Great Society social programs that he saw as precursors of a permanent welfare state. To shape legislation – in his view, reduce its liberal influence – he often reached across the aisle to work with powerful members in the majority party.

He developed clout as an expert on appropriations for health, education and welfare before rising to greater visibility in 1973, when President Nixon named him chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Amid the fallout from the Watergate political scandal, the job proved a thankless task, and Republicans were clobbered in the 1974 elections.

But Michel, regarded as a master of procedure, remained in the good graces of his colleagues, who elected the congressman minority whip, the second-ranking House Republican leadership post.

He set about rebuilding his party’s morale and unity, but with a soft touch. “We try to build a feeling that the tough votes have to be spread around,” he told The Washington Post in 1975. “If I have to, I go to a member and say, ‘Look, we’ve had six tough votes and you haven’t been with us once. You want to be part of the team or not?’ “

He was elected House minority leader in December 1980, narrowly outpolling Michigan’s Guy Vander Jagt.

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