Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker – known for his ability to reach across the political aisle and for his role in questioning what President Richard Nixon knew during the Watergate hearings in the 1970s – is dead at the age of 88.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement on the Senate floor on Thursday, calling Baker, a moderate Republican, a “true path breaker.”
McConnell said the longtime Tennessee senator “truly earned his nickname ‘the great conciliator.’ I know he will be remembered with fondness by members of both political parties.”
Baker had numerous government positions aside from his 18 years in the Senate, including chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan from 1987 to 1988 and U.S. Ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush. Baker also unsuccessfully made a bid for the presidency in 1980.
In 1973, as vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, he famously asked, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Baker was also credited with saving Reagan from the fallout from the Iran-Contra scandal plaguing his second term by getting the president to acknowledge his mistakes and moving beyond them.
“He was someone that could do everything,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of Baker on the Senate floor. “He was well-liked by Democrats and Republicans,” the Nevada Democrat added.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander called Baker “Tennessee’s favorite son” in a statement. “He built our state’s two-party political system and inspired three generations to try to build a better state and country. It is difficult to express how much we honor his life and how much we will miss him.”
Baker’s longtime aide, Tom Griscom, told The Washington Post that the veteran lawmaker’s death was the result of complications from a stroke.
“Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Howard Baker,” President Obama said in a statement. “Howard was many things over the course of his career – from Senate Majority Leader, to White House Chief of Staff, to Ambassador. Yet, it was his ability to broker compromise and his unofficial role as the ‘Great Conciliator’ that won him admirers across party lines, over multiple generations, and beyond the state he called home. Over an 18-year Senate career, Howard fought for the people of Tennessee and helped lead America through difficult times. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Howard’s wife Nancy and the entire Baker family.”