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Romney guilty vote echoes father’s housing stand against Nixon

At a time when racism was written into deeds, the elder Romney rebuked a president

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, on Wednesday made history by becoming the first member of the upper house of Congress to vote to remove a president of his own party.

During his Senate speech, he didn’t mention his father, George Romney, the former governor of Michigan who served as President Richard Nixon’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. However, in interviews with reporters before and after, Romney cited his father’s example of relying on principle and following his conscience.

The elder Romney, who died in 1995, was a Republican who was a staunch supporter of civil rights. He advocated for fair housing during a time when racial covenants – restrictions in deeds that precluded homes being sold to black people – were common practices in American real estate.

After a failed bid in 1968 to become the Republican candidate for president, Romney was nominated by the newly elected Nixon to lead HUD. It was eight months after the Fair Housing Act became law.

As head of HUD, the elder Romney ordered the department to reject project applications from cities and states that supported segregated housing. That and other examples of Romney’s vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws put him at loggerheads with Nixon.

In Trumpian fashion, in the pre-Twitter world of 1972, Nixon expressed his displeasure by dissing him publicly. He announced to the press that his HUD secretary would travel to assess hurricane damage in Pennsylvania. An embarrassed Romney learned of his upcoming trip by reading about it in the newspapers.

It wasn’t much by today’s standards, but it was an affront during a time when politicians were expected to show at least a veneer of civility.

Later, in private, Romney stood up to Nixon in the Oval Office, as captured on one of the president’s infamous tapes, and threatened to quit. Nixon wanted to get rid of Romney, but not in the months before his reelection. He asked Romney to reconsider.

Two days after Nixon won a second term in a landslide, and more than a year before the House Judiciary Committee passed Articles of Impeachment to remove the 37th president, Romney resigned.

Mitt Romney, who is near the same age as George Romney was when he confronted Nixon, often cites his father’s influence during interviews with reporters, including during his time as governor of Massachusetts. The two men share similar physical traits – the hair, the piercing eyes, the lanky frame, and the jawline.

But they share something else, as well.

Before the rollcall on Wednesday that showed Romney rise to his feet to respond “Guilty” on the Article of Impeachment that charged President Donald Trump with abusing his office for personal gain, he gave an eight-minute speech viewed over a million times on YouTube.

In it, Romney acknowledged his vote would earn him enmity from a president.

“I’m sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters,” Romney said. “Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?”

“My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate, but irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability believing that my country expected it of me,” he said.

In those words, some watchers perceived more than a physical resemblance to the HUD secretary who took a stand against Nixon.

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