Howard Baker

For other people named Howard Baker, see Howard Baker (disambiguation).
Howard Baker
26th United States Ambassador to Japan
In office
July 5, 2001  February 17, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Tom Foley
Succeeded by Tom Schieffer
12th White House Chief of Staff
In office
February 27, 1987  July 3, 1988
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Donald Regan
Succeeded by Kenneth Duberstein
Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1981  January 3, 1985
Deputy Ted Stevens
Preceded by Robert Byrd
Succeeded by Bob Dole
Senate Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1977  January 3, 1981
Deputy Ted Stevens
Preceded by Hugh Scott
Succeeded by Robert Byrd
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
January 3, 1967  January 3, 1985
Preceded by Ross Bass
Succeeded by Al Gore
Personal details
Born Howard Henry Baker Jr.
(1925-11-15)November 15, 1925
Huntsville, Tennessee, U.S.
Died June 26, 2014(2014-06-26) (aged 88)
Huntsville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Joy Dirksen (died 1993)
Nancy Kassebaum (1996–2014)
Alma mater Tulane University
University of the South
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Religion Presbyterianism
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1943–1946
Battles/wars World War II

Howard Henry Baker Jr. (November 15, 1925  June 26, 2014) was an American politician and diplomat who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee and Senate Majority Leader. Baker later served as White House Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan, and a United States Ambassador to Japan. He worked as a lobbyist and adviser at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.[1]

Known in Washington, D.C., as the "Great Conciliator", Baker was often regarded as one of the most successful senators in terms of brokering compromises, enacting legislation and maintaining civility. Baker was a moderate conservative who was also respected enormously by most of his Democratic colleagues.[2]

Early life

Baker was born in Huntsville, Tennessee, to Dora Ann (née Ladd) and Howard Baker Sr.[3] Howard Jr.'s father served as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from 1951 until 1964, representing a traditionally Republican district in East Tennessee. Baker attended The McCallie School in Chattanooga, and after graduating, he attended Tulane University in New Orleans. During World War II, he trained at a U.S. Navy facility on the campus of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in the V-12 Navy College Training Program. He served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1946 and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1949. The same year, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar and began his law practice.[4]

The rotunda at the University of Tennessee College of Law is now named for Baker. While he was delivering a commencement speech during his grandson's graduation at East Tennessee State University (Johnson City) on May 5, 2007, Baker was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.[5] Baker was an alumnus of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.


Howard Baker in 1984
Painting by Herbert E. Abrams

Baker began his political career in 1964, when he lost to the liberal Democrat Ross Bass in a U.S. Senate election to fill the unexpired term of the late Senator Estes Kefauver. In the 1966 U.S. Senate election for Tennessee, Bass lost the Democratic primary to former Governor Frank G. Clement, and Baker handily won his Republican primary race over Kenneth Roberts, 112,617 (75.7 percent) to 36,043 (24.2 percent).[6] Baker won the general election, capitalizing on Clement's failure to energize the Democratic base, including specifically organized labor. He won by a somewhat larger-than-expected margin of 55.7 percent to Clement's 44.2 percent. Baker thus became the first Republican senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction and the first Republican to be popularly elected to the Senate from Tennessee. Harry W. Wellford, then a private attorney but later a U.S. District Court justice and then U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Justice, served as Baker's campaign chair and closest confidant.

Baker was re-elected in 1972 and again in 1978, serving altogether from January 3, 1967, to January 3, 1985. In 1969, he was already a candidate for the Minority Leadership position that opened up with the death of his father-in-law, Everett Dirksen, but Baker was defeated 19–24 by Hugh Scott.[7] At the beginning of the following Congress in 1971, Baker ran again, losing to Scott this time 20–24.[8]

In 1971, President Richard Nixon asked Baker to fill one of the two empty seats on the U.S. Supreme Court.[9] When Baker took too long to decide whether he wanted the appointment, Nixon changed his mind and nominated William Rehnquist instead.[10]

In 1973 and 1974, Baker was also the influential ranking minority member of the Senate committee, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, that investigated the Watergate scandal. Baker is famous for having asked aloud, "What did the President know and when did he know it?" The question is sometimes attributed to being given to him by his counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson.[11] John Dean, former counsel to Nixon, revealed to Senate Watergate chief counsel Sam Dash in executive session that Baker had "secret dealings with the White House" during the congressional investigation. Though a juror in any future impeachment trial, Baker was recorded on February 22, 1973 promising Nixon, "I'm your friend. I'm going to see that your interests are protected." Following this, writes Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, "both the majority Democrats and minority Republicans agreed to share all information." Ultimately, one such document shared by Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt inadvertently suggested the presence of Nixon's secret taping system.[12]

When Hugh Scott retired, Baker was elected senate minority leader in 1977 by his Republican colleagues, defeating Robert Griffin 19-18.[13] Baker served two terms as Senate Minority Leader (1977–1981) and two terms as Senate Majority Leader (1981–1985).

Baker was frequently mentioned by insiders as a possible nominee for Vice President of the United States on a ticket headed by incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976 and according to many sources, he was a frontrunner for this post. Ford, however, in a surprising move, chose Kansas Senator Bob Dole.[14]

Baker ran for U.S. President in 1980, dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination after losing the Iowa caucuses to George H.W. Bush and the New Hampshire primary to Ronald Reagan, even though a Gallup poll had him in second place in the presidential race, at eighteen percent behind Reagan at 41 percent, as late as November 1979.[15]

Baker's support of the 1978 Panama Canal Treaties was overwhelmingly unpopular, especially among Republicans,[2][16] and it cost him politically when he ran for president two years later. It was a factor in Reagan's choosing George H.W. Bush instead of Baker as his running mate.[2]

Further activities

In the Senate, Baker was succeeded by Democratic congressman and future Vice President Al Gore. Baker did not seek re-election in 1984, though he did receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that year. As a testament to Baker's skill as a negotiator, and an honest and amiable broker, Reagan tapped him to serve as Chief of Staff during part of Reagan's second term (1987–1988). Many saw this as a move by Reagan to mend relations with the Senate, which had deteriorated somewhat under the previous chief of staff, Donald Regan. (Baker had complained that Regan had become a too-powerful "Prime Minister" inside an increasingly complex imperial presidency.)

In accepting this appointment, Baker chose to skip another bid for the White House in 1988.[17]

In 2003, the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy was set up at the University of Tennessee to honor him. Vice President Dick Cheney gave a speech at the 2005 ground-breaking ceremony for the center's new building. Upon the building's completion in 2008, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor assisted in the facility's dedication.[16]

In 2007, Baker joined fellow former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, and George Mitchell to found the Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit think tank that works to develop policies suitable for bipartisan support.[18]

In his later years, Baker served as Senior Counsel to the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.[19] He was also an Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy. Baker also held a seat on the board of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a nonprofit that provides international election support.[20]


Personal life

Howard Baker with Bill Frist, Bob Corker, and Lamar Alexander in 2007

Baker was married to the daughters of two prominent Republicans. Baker's first wife, Joy, who died of cancer, was the daughter of former Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. In 1996, he married former U.S. Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, daughter of the late Kansas Governor Alfred M. Landon, who was the Republican nominee for President in 1936.

Baker died on June 26, 2014, at the age of 88 from complications of a stroke he suffered the week prior. He died in his native Huntsville, Tennessee, with his wife, Nancy, by his side.[23][24] Baker was a Presbyterian.

See also


  1. "Howard Baker profile at". OpenSecrets. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  2. 1 2 3 Hunt, Albert R. (1 July 2014). "Howard Baker, Senate prince showed great statesmanship". The Olympian. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  3. "Nancy Kassebaum and Howard Baker". The New York Times. December 8, 1996. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  4. United States Congress. "Howard Baker (id: B000063)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  5. "UTK Awards Sen. Howard Baker First Honorary Doctorate". 2005-05-07. Retrieved 2012-08-30.
  6. "TN U.S. Senate -- R Primary". Retrieved July 2, 2012.
  7. Steve Gerstel (1969-09-24). "Republicans Choose Scott Floor Leader". Times-News. Hendersonville, North Carolina. UPI. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  8. Walter R. Mears (1971-01-20). "Senate Leader Battles: Kennedy Out, Scott In". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  9. Dean, John (2002). Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment that Redefined the Supreme Court. Simon & Schuster. p. 289. ISBN 9780743229791.
  10. Rosen, Jeffrey (November 4, 2001). "Renchburg's the One!". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  11. Lowy, Joan (2007-07-07). "Fred Thompson Aided Nixon on Watergate". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  12. Woodward, Bob (2015). The Last of the President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 152–153.
  13. "Baker Didn't Think He'd Win". The Ledger. Lakeland, Florida. The New York Times. 1977-01-06. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  14. "Political Races". CNN. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  15. "Cain Surges, Nearly Ties Romney for Lead in GOP Preferences". Gallup. Retrieved Oct 10, 2011.
  16. 1 2 "Senator Howard H. Baker Jr. (1925–2014)". University of Tennessee. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  17. "The Right Man at the Right Time". Time. 1987-03-09. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  18. "About the Bipartisan Policy Center, Who We Are". Bipartisan Policy.Org. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  19. "Howard H. Baker profile". Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  20. "Howard H. Baker Jr". Retrieved 2013-12-02.
  21. "National Winners: public service awards". Jefferson Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  22. Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "2008 Spring Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals", p. 4; "51 non-Japanese among 4,000 to receive decorations this spring". The Japan Times. April 30, 2008.
  23. Camia, Catalina (June 26, 2014). "Former Senate GOP leader Howard Baker dies". USA Today. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  24. Sisk, Chas (27 June 2014). "Howard Baker, former Senate Majority Leader, dies at 88". The Tennessean. Retrieved 5 July 2014.

Further reading

Howard Baker at the Internet Movie Database

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