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About Howard Henry Baker, Jr.
Howard Henry Baker, Jr. (born November 15, 1925) is a former Senate Majority Leader, Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee, White House Chief of Staff, and a former United States Ambassador to Japan.
Known in Washington, D.C. as the "Great Conciliator," Baker is often regarded as one of the most successful senators in terms of brokering compromises, enacting legislation, and maintaining civility. A story is sometimes told of a reporter telling a senior Democratic senator that privately, a plurality of his Democratic colleagues would vote for Baker for President of the United States. The senator is reported to have replied, "You're wrong. He'd win a majority."
Baker was born in Huntsville, in Scott County, Tennessee, the son of Dora Ann (née Ladd) and Howard H. Baker, Sr. His 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. That same year, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar and commenced his practice. The rotunda at the University of Tennessee College of Law is now named for him. While delivering a commencement speech during his grandson’s graduation at East Tennessee State University (Johnson City), Baker was awarded an honorary doctorate degree on May 5, 2007. Baker is an alumnus of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.
The younger Baker began his own political career in 1964, when he lost an election to fill the unexpired term of the late Senator Estes Kefauver to the liberal Democrat Ross Bass. In the 1966 Senate election, Bass lost the Democratic primary to former Governor Frank G. Clement. In the general election, Baker capitalized on Clement's failure to energize the Democratic base, specifically Tennessee labor, and won. He thus became the first elected Republican senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction. (Newell Sanders, a Republican who represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1912 to 1913, had been appointed by Republican Governor Ben W. Hooper when Democrat Robert Love Taylor died in office.)
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 was defeated 24-19 by Hugh Scott. At the beginning of the following Congress in 1971 Baker ran again, losing to Scott this time by 24-20.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon asked Baker to fill one of two empty seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. When Baker took too long to decide whether he wanted the appointment or not, Nixon changed his mind and decided to nominate William Rehnquist instead.
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. He is famous for having asked aloud, "What did the President know and when did he know it?", a question given him to ask by his counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson.
When Hugh Scott retired Baker was elected leader in 1977 by his GOP colleagues, defeating Robert Griffin 19-18. 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 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, a front-runner for this post. Ford, however, in a surprising move, chose Kansas Senator Bob Dole.
Baker ran for President in 1980, dropping out of the race for the GOP 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 18% behind Reagan at 41% as late as November 1979.
Baker's duties as Senate Minority Leader prevented him from campaigning heavily in these important early test races.
He did not seek re-election in 1984, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom the same year. However, as a testament to his skill as a negotiator and honest and amiable broker, Reagan tapped him to serve as Chief of Staff during part of his second term (1987–1988). Many saw this as a move 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.
In 2003, the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy was set up at the University of Tennessee in honor of the former senator. 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, Sandra Day O'Connor assisted in the facility's dedication.
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.
Baker is currently Senior Counsel to the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. He is 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 holds a seat on the board of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems', a non-Profit which provides international election support.
Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1984.
Order of the Paulownia Flowers, 2008 (Japan).
Baker has been married to the daughters of two prominent Republicans. Baker's late 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, the daughter of the late Kansas Governor Alfred M. Landon, who was the Republican nominee for President in 1936. Howard Baker is a Presbyterian.