Howard Baker

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Howard Baker
Official portrait, 2001
26th United States Ambassador to Japan
In office
July 5, 2001 – February 17, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byTom Foley
Succeeded byTom Schieffer
12th White House Chief of Staff
In office
February 27, 1987 – July 3, 1988
PresidentRonald Reagan
DeputyKenneth Duberstein
Preceded byDonald Regan
Succeeded byKenneth Duberstein
Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1985
WhipTed Stevens
Preceded byRobert Byrd
Succeeded byBob Dole
Senate Minority Leader
In office
March 5, 1980 – January 3, 1981
WhipTed Stevens
Preceded byTed Stevens (acting)
Succeeded byRobert Byrd
In office
January 3, 1977 – November 1, 1979
WhipTed Stevens
Preceded byHugh Scott
Succeeded byTed Stevens (acting)
Leader of the Senate Republican Conference
In office
January 3, 1977 – November 1, 1979
DeputyTed Stevens
Preceded byHugh Scott
Succeeded byTed Stevens
In office
March 5, 1980 – January 3, 1985
DeputyTed Stevens
Preceded byTed Stevens
Succeeded byBob Dole
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1985
Preceded byRoss Bass
Succeeded byAl Gore
Personal details
Howard Henry Baker Jr.

(1925-11-15)November 15, 1925
Huntsville, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedJune 26, 2014(2014-06-26) (aged 88)
Huntsville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Danice Joy Dirksen
(m. 1951; died 1993)
(m. 1996)
EducationTulane University
University of the South
University of Tennessee (LLB)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service1943–1946
Battles/warsWorld War II

Howard Henry Baker Jr. (November 15, 1925 – June 26, 2014) was an American politician, diplomat and photographer who served as a United States Senator from Tennessee from 1967 to 1985. During his tenure, he rose to the rank of Senate Minority Leader and then Senate Majority Leader. A member of the Republican Party, Baker was the first Republican to be elected to the U.S. Senate in Tennessee since the Reconstruction era.

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. For example, he had a lead role in the fashioning and passing of the Clean Air Act of 1970 with Democratic senator Edmund Muskie.[1] A moderate conservative, he was also respected by his Democratic colleagues.[2]

Baker sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 but dropped out after the first set of primaries. From 1987 to 1988, he served as White House Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan. From 2001 to 2005, he was the United States Ambassador to Japan.

Early life[edit]

Baker was born on November 15, 1925, in Huntsville, Tennessee, to Dora Ladd Baker and Howard Baker Sr.[3] His father served as a Republican member of the US House of Representatives from 1951 to 1964, representing Tennessee's Second District.[4] Baker attended The McCallie School in Chattanooga,[5] and after graduating, he attended Tulane University in New Orleans.[5] Baker was an alumnus of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.[6] During World War II, he trained at a U.S. Navy facility on the campus of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee,[4] in the V-12 Navy College Training Program. He served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy[4] and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1949.[5] That year, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar and began his law practice.[7]

Senate career[edit]

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. However, Baker only lost by 4.7% points, the closest that a Republican had come to being popularly elected to the Senate from Tennessee.[citation needed]

In the 1966 United States Senate election in Tennessee, Bass lost the Democratic primary to the Governor of Tennessee, Frank G. Clement, and Baker handily won his Republican primary race against Kenneth Roberts, 112,617 (75.7%) to 36,043 (24.2%).[8] Baker won the general election, capitalizing on Clement's failure to energize the Democratic base, especially organized labor. He won by a somewhat larger-than-expected margin of 55.7% to Clement's 44.2%.[9] Baker thus became the first Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee since the Reconstruction era and the first Republican to be popularly elected to the Senate from Tennessee. Baker voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court of the United States.[10][11]

Baker was re-elected in 1972 and again in 1978 and served 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 24–19 by Hugh Scott.[12] At the beginning of the next Congress, in 1971, Baker ran again, losing again to Scott, 24–20.[13]

When Scott retired, Baker was elected as leader of the Senate Republicans in 1977 by his Republican colleagues, defeating Robert Griffin, 19–18.[14] Baker led the Senate GOP for the last eight years of his tenure, serving two terms as Senate Minority Leader from 1977 to 1981, and two terms as Senate Majority Leader from 1981 to 1985, a role he transitioned to after the Republicans gained the majority in the Senate in the 1980 elections.

Baker did not seek further re-election and concluded his Senate career in 1985. He was succeeded by Democratic Representative and future Vice President Al Gore.

Nixon administration[edit]

President Richard Nixon asked Baker in 1971 to fill one of the two empty seats on the Supreme Court of the United States.[15] When Baker took too long to decide whether he wanted the appointment, Nixon changed his mind and nominated William Rehnquist instead.[16]

Watergate investigation[edit]

In 1973 and 1974, Baker was the influential ranking minority member of the United States Senate Watergate Committee, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, which investigated the Watergate scandal. Baker famously asked aloud, "What did the President know and when did he know it?"[17] The question is sometimes attributed to being given to him by his counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson.[18]

John Dean, former White House Counsel to Nixon, revealed to Senate Watergate chief counsel Samuel Dash that Baker had "secret dealings" with the White House during the congressional investigation. Although Baker, as a US senator, would be 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."[17]

Watergate reporter Bob Woodward wrote that then "both the majority Democrats and minority Republicans agreed to share all information." Ultimately, one such document shared by Nixon lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt inadvertently suggested the presence of Nixon's secret taping system.[19]

Presidential campaign[edit]

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. According to many sources, Baker was a frontrunner until he disclosed that his wife, Joy, was a recovered alcoholic.[20] Ford, whose own wife, Betty, was an alcoholic (albeit undisclosed at the time), chose Kansas U.S. Senator Bob Dole.[21]

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 presidential primary to Ronald Reagan even though a Gallup poll had him in second place in the presidential race at 18%, behind Reagan at 41% as late as November 1979.[22] Baker's support of the 1978 Panama Canal Treaties was overwhelmingly unpopular, especially among Republicans,[2][23] and it was a factor in Reagan's choosing Bush instead as his running mate.[2] Ted Stevens served as Acting Minority Leader during Baker's primary campaign.[24]

Baker in 1989

Reagan administration[edit]

In 1984, Baker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[25]

In October 1983, Baker voted in favor of the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday.[26]

As a testament to Baker's skill as a negotiator and an honest and amiable broker, Reagan tapped him to serve as White House Chief of Staff during part of Reagan's second term (1987–1988). Many saw that as a move by Reagan to mend relations with the Senate, which had deteriorated somewhat under the previous chief of staff, Donald Regan.[27] In accepting the appointment, Baker chose to skip another bid for the White House in 1988.[28]

Later life[edit]

President George W. Bush nominated Baker to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan in March 2001.[29] He was sworn in on June 26 and presented his credentials on July 5.[30] During Baker's tenure, Japan supported the US-led Iraq War and implemented an embargo on American beef due to a BSE outbreak. Baker announced his resignation in December 2004 after returning to the United States for open heart surgery in August.[31]

In 2003, the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs 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, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor assisted in the facility's dedication.[23]

In March 2005, Baker was appointed as a senior advisor to Citigroup.[32]

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.[33] He was 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. From 2005 to 2011, Baker was a member of the board of directors of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a nonprofit that provides international election support.[34]

From 2005 to his death, Baker served as senior counsel to the law firm of his father and his grandfather, Baker Donelson.[35]

Baker was an accomplished lifelong photographer. His photographs have often been exhibited and were published in National Geographic, Life, and in the books Howard Baker's Washington (1982), Big South Fork Country (1993), and Scott's Gulf: The Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness (2000). In 1993, he received the International Award of the American Society of Photographers, and in 1994, he was elected into the Hall of Fame of the Photo Marketing Association.[36]

Baker with President George W. Bush in 2001


On June 26, 2014, Baker died at the age of 88 from complications of a stroke that he had suffered a week earlier. He was in his native Huntsville, Tennessee, with his wife, Nancy, by his side.[37]


Personal life[edit]

Baker, a Presbyterian, was married twice. He married his first wife, Danice Joy Dirksen, who the daughter of former Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen in 1951. Together, they had two daughters. After she died of cancer on April 24, 1993, Baker then married U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum, daughter of Kansas Governor Alf Landon, on December 7, 1996.[42]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Early Implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in California.” EPA Alumni Association. Video, Transcript (see p2). July 12, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Hunt, Albert R. (July 1, 2014). "Howard Baker, Senate prince showed great statesmanship". The Olympian. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  3. ^ Annis 2007, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c "Howard H. Baker Jr. dies at 88; respected Washington insider". Los Angeles Times. June 26, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c "Howard Baker, former Senate Majority Leader, dies at 88". The Tennessean. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  6. ^ "Hall of Fame member Howard H. Baker passes to Chapter Eternal". June 26, 2014.
  7. ^ United States Congress. "Howard Baker (id: B000063)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  8. ^ "TN U.S. Senate -- R Primary". Retrieved July 2, 2012.
  9. ^ "TN US Senate Race - Nov 08, 1966". May 22, 2004. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  10. ^ "Senate – March 11, 1968" (PDF). Congressional Record. 114 (5). U.S. Government Printing Office: 5992. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  11. ^ "Senate – August 30, 1967" (PDF). Congressional Record. 113 (18). U.S. Government Printing Office: 24656. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
  12. ^ Steve Gerstel (September 24, 1969). "Republicans Choose Scott Floor Leader". Times-News. Hendersonville, North Carolina. UPI. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  13. ^ Walter R. Mears (January 20, 1971). "Senate Leader Battles: Kennedy Out, Scott In". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  14. ^ "Baker Didn't Think He'd Win". The Ledger. Lakeland, Florida. The New York Times. January 6, 1977. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  15. ^ Dean, John (2002). Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment that Redefined the Supreme Court. Simon & Schuster. p. 289. ISBN 9780743229791.
  16. ^ Rosen, Jeffrey (November 4, 2001). "Renchburg's the One!". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  17. ^ a b Wilcox, Amanda (March 1, 2018). "Carl Bernstein Explores Modern Echoes of Watergate". Old Gold & Black. Wake Forest University. Retrieved June 10, 2018. ...the real heroes of Watergate were Republicans... he told the story of U.S. Sen. Howard Baker who was loyal to the White House at the beginning of the investigation. Baker promised Nixon, "I'm your friend. I'm going to see that your interests are protected." Later, though, he became famous for asking aloud, "What did the president know and when did he know it?"
  18. ^ Lowy, Joan (July 7, 2007). "Fred Thompson Aided Nixon on Watergate". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  19. ^ Woodward, Bob (2015). The Last of the President's Men. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 152–53.
  20. ^ Camarekian, Barbara (March 27, 1977). "Joy Baker, a Recovered Alcoholic, Rejoins the Washington Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  21. ^ "Political Races". CNN. Archived from the original on June 9, 2011. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  22. ^ "Cain Surges, Nearly Ties Romney for Lead in GOP Preferences". Gallup. October 10, 2011. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
  23. ^ a b "Senator Howard H. Baker Jr. (1925–2014)". University of Tennessee. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  24. ^ "The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on November 2, 1979 · Page 2". November 2, 1979.
  25. ^ "President Reagan will award the presidential Medal of Freedom". UPI. February 22, 1984. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  26. ^ "TO PASS H.R. 3706. (MOTION PASSED) SEE NOTE(S) 19".
  27. ^ Shearer, Lloyd (May 3, 1987). "White House Rescue Costing Baker a Bundle". Pacific Stars And Stripes. p. 20. Retrieved June 10, 2018. When the Iran-Contra scandal and the Tower Commission Report were making life miserable for Ronald Reagan, former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., 61, came to the President's rescue. A loyal but moderate Republican, he agreed to return to government as Reagan's new chief of staff, replacing the controversial Donald Reagan.
  28. ^ "The Right Man at the Right Time". Time. March 9, 1987. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  29. ^ "Baker named new Japan envoy". MarketWatch. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  30. ^ "U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Japan". Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  31. ^ "Baker retiring as ambassador to Japan". NBC News. December 8, 2004. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  32. ^ Gangahar, Anuj (March 4, 2005). "Citigroup hires ex-US ambassador to Japan".
  33. ^ "About the Bipartisan Policy Center, Who We Are". Bipartisan Policy.Org. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  34. ^ "IFES Annual Report 2010" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  35. ^ "Howard H. Baker Jr. 1925 ‒ 2014". Baker Donelson. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  36. ^ "The Howard Baker Photography Website". Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  37. ^ Camia, Catalina (June 26, 2014). "Former Senate GOP leader Howard Baker dies". USA Today. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  38. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  39. ^ "National Winners: public service awards". Jefferson Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  40. ^ "UTK Awards Sen. Howard Baker First Honorary Doctorate". May 7, 2005. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ Sisk, Chas (June 27, 2014). "Howard Baker, former Senate Majority Leader, dies at 88". The Tennessean. Retrieved June 10, 2018.

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