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Lawmakers Praise Reagan for Leadership, Principles - 2004-06-09

The body of former President Ronald Reagan comes to the U.S. Capitol later Wednesday as members of Congress continue to pay tribute to his leadership and accomplishments.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have spent the past few days paying tribute to Mr. Reagan, and passing resolutions expressing sorrow at his death. Mr. Reagan was praised for leadership that, over the course of two presidential terms spanning most of the 1980's, lawmakers said hastened the end of the Cold War and Communism in Europe.

Congressman Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader, said Mr. Reagan proved wrong critics who predicted dire outcomes from his presidency. "They said Ronald Reagan could ruin the economy. But in fact, he led it to heights of strength and prosperity never before witnesses in history," says Mr. DeLay. "They said Reagan would provoke our enemies to war, but in fact he got our enemies to surrender without firing a single shot. They said Ronald Reagan was an amiable dunce. But in fact, he was a fearless intellectual warrior who marshaled words like soldiers to fight battles of ideas across a table and across a continent and won."

House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, said Mr. Reagan will be remembered as much for willingness to compromise, as for his political convictions. "Those of us on this side of the [political] aisle may not always have stood with him on matters of policy, but we always knew where he stood, as did he, when it came to matters of principle," says Mrs. Pelosi. "And though firm in his convictions, President Reagan was not afraid of compromise. Indeed, the lifelong crusader against Communism will be always remembered for signing the first agreement with the [former] Soviet Union to actually destroy nuclear weapons."

In the Senate, Republican Senator Tom Allen said President Reagan hastened the end of Communism in Europe. "Hundreds of millions of free people, from the Baltics and Lithuiana and Estonia and Latvia, down on through Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, all people once repressed behind the Iron Curtain they are now joining NATO," says Mr. Allen. "They are true friends and allies, and yes they are breathing that invigorating wind of freedom."

Many lawmakers recalled how Mr. Reagan moved quickly to comfort the nation after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.

"That is a leader," says Democratic Senator, and former astronaut, Bill Nelson. "That is a leader who has the ability through communication to connect, to inspire, and in this particular case, on January 28, 1986 to help the nation through the process of grieving, to accept what had happened and then pick up and move on."

After arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, the casket carrying Mr. Reagan's body will be transported to downtown Washington, D.C., then carried on a horse-drawn flag-draped cart by way of the White House to the Capitol.

Unprecedented security measures are in force to ensure nothing disrupts the next few days of tribute and remembrance. All of the estimated 100,000 people hoping to view his body in the Capitol will have to pass through metal detectors.

While he was President, Mr. Reagan appeared 11 times before joint sessions of Congress, his last being a final State of the Union Address in 1988.

That was about six years before he informed the nation, in a personal letter addressed to My Fellow Americans, that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Reagan's struggle with that disease appears to be giving some new energy to efforts by some legislators to increase funding for research to find a medical cure.