Illinois Republican Ray LaHood certainly knows his history.

A top Capitol Hill aide during the Reagan years, then a congressman who represented the same Illinois seat as Abraham Lincoln and who presided over the impeachment of former President Clinton, and now the departing Transportation secretary under President Obama, LaHood hasn't just witnessed history, but he's lived it and helped make some on his own.

Now, as he leaves public service, LaHood is declaring that his boss is tops, an equal to the four presidents carved into the face of Mt. Rushmore.

At an exit press conference Thursday, LaHood talked about being a Republican in a Democratic administration, explaining that he was attracted to Obama because he believed the president had a vision of change for the nation and was ready to bring bipartisanship to Washington.

"People sometimes ask me, 'Why would you, a lifelong Republican, sign up to be a part of a Democratic administration.' Well, I'll tell you why. Because I believe in America, and I'm an American and I serve the American people and I believe that serving the American people is the highest calling," said LaHood.

"When President Obama called on me to serve in his historic, and I believe it is one of the most historic administrations, I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for truly bipartisan service," he recalled.

Now, over four years later, he believes that Obama has made history. "I can't thank the president enough for this opportunity," he said. "I think this is if not the most historic administration in the history of our country certainly," he added.

Among the reasons he cited were the various programs Obama instituted to bailout the auto industry, notably "cash for clunkers." Said LaHood, "No administration has done more for the American car manufacturers than this administration. People are obviously buying a lot of American cars now, which is a good thing."

LaHood used his final press conference to bemoan the current era of partisanship in Washington and call for greater cooperation among warring sides to fix the country, especially crumbling infrastructure.

Despite early efforts in the administration to pass legislation like Obamacare without GOP support, LaHood said that Obama is devoted to cooperation and compromise. "Bipartisanship is in his DNA," said LaHood of Obama, a former Illinois senator.

So what happened? LaHood suggested that the blame for Washington gridlock goes to the lawmakers who came to Washington after Obama was elected. He didn't name names, but since Obama was elected, the GOP, with the help of the Tea Party, took control of the House and added several conservatives to the Senate like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

"In the last few elections a smaller group of people came here to do nothing, and that's what they've been doing," said LaHood.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at