Richard Schweiker

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Richard S. Schweiker
14th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
In office
January 22, 1981 – February 3, 1983
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Patricia R. Harris
Succeeded by Margaret M. Heckler
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1981
Preceded by Joseph S. Clark
Succeeded by Arlen Specter
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 13th district
In office
January 3, 1961 – January 3, 1969
Preceded by John A. Lafore
Succeeded by Lawrence Coughlin
Personal details
Born Richard Schultz Schweiker
(1926-06-01) June 1, 1926 (age 88)
Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Claire Coleman Schweiker
Relations Malcolm Alderfer Schweiker, Jr.
Sylvia Schweiker Strasburg
Children Malcolm Coleman Schweiker (b. 1957)
Lani Lynne Schweiker (b. 1960)
Kyle Claire Schweiker (b. 1965)
Richard Schultz Schweiker, Jr. (b. 1967)
Lara Kristi Schweiker (b. 1969)
Parents Malcolm Alderfer Schweiker, Sr.
Blanche Schultz Schweiker
Alma mater Pennsylvania State University
Profession Politician, businessman
Religion Schwenkfelder Church
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1944-1946
Battles/wars World War II

Richard Schultz Schweiker (born June 1, 1926) is an American politician. A member of the Republican Party, he served as the 14th U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1983. He previously served as a U.S. Representative (1961–1969) and a U.S. Senator (1969–1981) from Pennsylvania.

Early life[edit]

Schweiker was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on June 1, 1926. He was the son of Malcolm Alderfer Schweiker, Sr. (February 27, 1895 – June 12, 1982) and his wife, the former Blanche R. Schultz (December 17, 1894 – September 1974).[1] His father and his uncle worked in the tiling business for several decades.[2]

He received his early education at public schools in Worcester, and graduated from Norristown Area High School as valedictorian in 1944.[3] During World War II, he served aboard an aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, being discharged with the rank of electronics technician (second class) in 1946.[4]

Following his military service, Schweiker attended Slippery Rock State College for two years before transferring to the Pennsylvania State University.[1] He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Penn State in 1950, graduating as a member of the Pi Kappa Sigma.[4] He then joined his family's business, American Olean Tile Company, rising from an assistant in the personnel department to the company's president within a few years.[3] He also became active in local Republican politics; he served as a precinct committeeman, and founded the Montgomery County chapter of the Young Republicans, of which he was also president (1952–1954).[3] He was selected as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1952 and in 1956.[1]

Marriage and family[edit]

On June 10, 1955, Schweiker married Claire Joan Coleman, a former host of the children's television show Romper Room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1954–1956). The couple had two sons and three daughters.[1]

Political career[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

In 1960, Schweiker was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district.[4] At the time, the Montgomery County-based district included Schweiker's home town of Norristown and several affluent suburban communities in the Philadelphia Main Line. A moderate to liberal Republican, he defeated conservative incumbent John Lafore in the Republican primary.[5] In the general election, he defeated Democrat Warren Ballard, a law professor at Temple University, by a margin of 62%-38%.[6] He was elected to three more terms, never receiving less than 59% of the vote.[4]

During his tenure in the House, Schweiker served on the Armed Services Committee and the Government Operations Committee.[1] He sponsored legislation, signed into law in 1965, that provided cash awards to military service personnel for cost-cutting ideas. He also supported civil rights legislation, the creation of Medicare, increases in Social Security, and federal rent subsidies.[3] He considered running for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1966, but state Republican leaders persuaded him against it.[3]

U.S. Senate[edit]

In 1968, Schweiker was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating two-term Democratic incumbent Joe Clark by more than 280,000 votes.[7] He was the only successful Republican statewide candidate in an election cycle that saw Hubert Humphrey win Pennsylvania by over 170,000 votes.[5] Continuing his progressive reputation in the Senate, Schweiker opposed the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon's nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, and had an 89% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.[5] However, he also supported school prayer, and opposed gun control and desegregation busing.[5]

During his tenure in the Senate, Schweiker served as the ranking member on both the Labor and Human Resources Committee and the Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.[1] Schweiker was a pioneer in increasing government spending on diabetes research, through his authoring and sponsoring of the National Diabetes Mellitus Research and Education Act. This legislation, passed by Congress in 1974, established the National Commission on Diabetes to create a long-term plan to fight the disease.

From 1975 to 1976, Schweiker chaired the subcommittee ("Church Committee") that looked into the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.[citation needed] In an interview on Face the Nation, he claimed the original investigation "was snuffed out before it even began" and that "the fatal mistake the Warren Commission made was to not use its own investigators, but instead to rely on the CIA and FBI personnel, which played directly into the hands of senior intelligence officials who directed the cover-up."[8]

He was re-elected in 1974 after defeating his Democratic opponent, Pittsburgh mayor Pete Flaherty, despite the fact that the election cycle saw many Republican incumbents lose due to the Watergate scandal. He won 53% of the vote, the highest of any senator from Pennsylvania since 1946.[9] He was the first Republican senator ever endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL–CIO, and even received 49% of the vote in heavily Democratic Philadelphia.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan made a serious challenge against President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States. Immediately before the opening of the Republican National Convention, Reagan promised to name Schweiker—who had a moderate-to-liberal voting record in the Senate—as his candidate for Vice President to balance the ticket. This was regarded as a somewhat unusual move as Reagan had not yet won the nomination. In response, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina encouraged a movement to draft Conservative U.S. Senator James L. Buckley of New York as the G.O.P. nominee.[10] Ford won the nomination on the first ballot by a razor-thin margin, and the Vice-Presidential nomination went to Bob Dole.[11]

Schweiker subsequently adopted a much more conservative voting record; his rating from the Americans for Democratic Action dropped to 15% in 1977.[5] In 1980, he announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate.[4]

Post-Senate career[edit]

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop (far right), Elizabeth Koop (left), Utah Senator Orrin G. Hatch (far left), and Secretary of HHS Richard S. Schweiker (right), (November 16, 1981).

Schweiker accepted President Reagan's appointment as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in January 1981. He held the position until he resigned in February 1983.[4] During his tenure, he worked with Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill to reform Social Security, put greater emphasis on preventive medicine, reduced Medicare and food stamp grants to the states, and restricted welfare eligibility.[1]

From 1983 to 1994, Schweiker served as president of the American Council of Life Insurance, now known as the American Council of Life Insurers.[4] He lives in McLean, Virginia.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John A. Lafore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district

Succeeded by
Lawrence Coughlin
United States Senate
Preceded by
Joseph S. Clark
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Hugh D. Scott and John Heinz
Succeeded by
Arlen Specter
Political offices
Preceded by
Patricia R. Harris
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
Served under: Ronald Reagan

Succeeded by
Margaret M. Heckler
Party political offices
Preceded by
James Van Zandt
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 3)

1968, 1974
Succeeded by
Arlen Specter