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Bush honors retiring Massachusetts congressman Moakley

Bush, Moakley
President Bush shakes hands with Massachusetts Representative Joe Moakley after signing a resolution renaming a Boston courthouse for him.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush honored a stricken, longtime member of the House of Representatives on Tuesday with a moving bill-signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

Bush feted Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joe Moakley by signing a bill designating the gleaming new federal courthouse in the South Boston section of Boston as the "John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse."

Moakley, 73, who represents Massachusetts' 9th congressional district in the House -- a district that encompasses much of the city, including the South Boston section -- surprised many of his fellow House members earlier this year by announcing he is ill with leukemia and will retire at the end of his term, in 2002.

He has served in the House since 1972, when as a freshman, he was taken under the wing of future House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, also of Massachusetts and then a rapidly rising star in the House leadership.

"This is a fitting tribute to a remarkable man," Bush said in a brief ceremony under a sunny sky in the Rose Garden. Bush was accompanied by Moakley and the entire congressional delegation of the Bay State, including its two Democratic senators, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry.

"Joe has described himself as a 'bread-and-butter' Democrat," Bush said. "He has been a passionate advocate for what he believes in and has been an enormously effective member of Congress."

Moakley served many of his House years as a key member of the House Rules Committee. He chaired the influential committee -- which drafts resolutions setting parameters for legislative debates on the House floor -- until January 1995, when the Republicans took control of the House.

Rather than seek a new committee assignment, Moakley became the ranking member of the Rules Committee and was known as a fierce fighter for the Democratic minority.

"What makes Joe Moakley exceptional is the fact that he is so well-liked and admired by members of both political parties," Bush said. "He is civil, friendly and funny."

"Joe Moakley has brought honor to his profession," Bush continued. "Joe loves the United States Congress, and he loves public service. He considers politics to be an honorable profession."

Current Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, a California Republican, also shared the Rose Garden stage with the predominantly Democratic group. Bush's signing of the courthouse designation marked the first time he had enacted a bill into law in the Rose Garden.

Moakley was touched by the gesture.

"I'll always be in your debt for this," he said.

He praised the construction of the courthouse in South Boston, a rough-and-tumble section of the city whose population has descended from Irish immigrants. The area is undergoing an economic and social rebirth of sorts, and Moakley credited the addition of the courthouse with spurring growth.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful courthouse," he said. "It is a graphic example of how the federal government spends so much money to spur the economy, and it will revitalize an area that up until now was a haven for low-grade commercial uses."

"It's also nice to be on the same side of the grass as the monument that honors you," Moakley added.



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