The New York Times Obituary said -
"Thomas S. Foley, a courtly congressman from Washington State who as speaker of the House sought to still the chamber’s rising tide of partisan combat before it swept the Democratic majority, and Mr. Foley himself, out of office in 1994, died on Friday at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 84.
His wife, Heather, said the cause was complications of strokes. He had a stroke last December, was hospitalized with pneumonia in May and had been under hospice care at his home virtually since then, she said.
In a statement, President Obama called Mr. Foley “a legend of the United States Congress” whose “straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties.”
Mr. Foley — well read, impeccably dressed and quite tall (he stood 6-foot-4) — had been the House majority leader when he took the speaker’s chair on June 6, 1989. His rise came in the wake of a bitter, though successful, fight led by Representative Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, to oust Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat from Texas, over allegations of ethics violations; one was that he had improperly accepted gifts from a Fort Worth developer. Mr. Wright resigned before an ethics inquiry was completed.
Mr. Foley immediately appealed to “our friends on the Republican side to come together and put away bitterness and division and hostility.” He promised to treat “each and every member” fairly, regardless of party, and by most estimations he lived up to that promise to a degree unmatched by his successors. For a time, he succeeded in making the House a more civil place, winning praise from many Republicans for his fairness.
But by 1994, Republicans had hardened, painting the Democratic-controlled House as out of touch and corrupt.
Their strategy worked. That year, Republicans won their first majority in the House in 40 years, and Mr. Foley became the first speaker since the Civil War to be defeated for re-election in his own district. (Speaker Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania lost his seat in 1862.)
Mr. Foley had gotten a taste of that partisanship a few days before becoming speaker, when the Republican National Committee and an aide to Mr. Gingrich sought to portray him as homosexual. The committee put out a memo labeled “Tom Foley: Out of the Liberal Closet,” equating his voting record with that of Barney Frank, the gay representative from Massachusetts, and the Gingrich aide urged reporters to investigate Mr. Foley’s sexuality. Mr. Foley denied he was gay.
President George Bush said he was “disgusted at the memo,” but he also said he believed the R.N.C. chairman, Lee Atwater, who had been Mr. Bush’s presidential campaign strategist, when Mr. Atwater said he did not know where the memo had originated. Because of Mr. Atwater’s own reputation for attack-dog politics, the president’s belief was not widely shared.
Mr. Foley’s five and a half years as speaker were marked by a successful effort to force President Bush to accept tax increases as part of a 1990 deficit-reduction deal, and by unsuccessful opposition to the president’s plans to invade Iraq in 1991.
When Mr. Bush was succeeded by Bill Clinton, a Democrat, Mr. Foley played a central role in winning passage of Mr. Clinton’s 1993 budget plan, which also included tax increases. The measure passed the House, 218 to 216, without a single Republican vote.
And despite a long history of opposing any gun control measures, Mr. Foley helped win House passage of a 1994 ban on assault weapons, which played a major role in the Republican victory that fall. He had been shaken when a troubled Air Force enlisted man went on a shooting rampage at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash., killing 5 people and wounding 22.
He also bucked a majority of House Democrats in supporting Mr. Clinton’s successful effort to win ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But he did not cite any of those measures in reflecting on his record in his last news conference, on Nov. 19, 1994.
“If I had one compelling concern in the time that I have been speaker, but previous to that as well,” he said, “it is that we not idly tamper with the Constitution of the United States.”
He had been a fierce opponent of proposed constitutional amendments that would have required a balanced federal budget, term limits for members of Congress and a ban on flag burning, all championed by Republicans. Of the flag-burning measure, he said, “If it is not conservative to protect the Bill of Rights, then I don’t know what conservatism is today.”
Despite sharp differences on issues, he got along better with members of the other party than any of the speakers who followed him. In that final news conference, asked to offer advice to the next speaker, Mr. Gingrich, he urged him to remember, “You are the speaker of the whole House and not just one party.”
Robert H. Michel of Illinois, the minority leader whom Mr. Foley allowed to preside at the closing of the 103rd Congress, said Mr. Foley had attained that bipartisan goal himself. Mr. Foley, he said, “just felt it was a significant step from being majority leader” and that as speaker, “you submerge” partisan impulses.
But his good relations with Mr. Michel did not stop Republicans from taking aim at Mr. Foley, whose rural district in and around Spokane leaned Republican.
George Nethercutt, a lawyer backed not only by the national Republican apparatus but also by the National Rifle Association and supporters of term limits, ran against Mr. Foley in 1994, saying he had lost touch with the district. Mr. Nethercutt promised to serve only three terms (though he changed his mind and served five) and won narrowly. Mr. Gingrich later called Washington State “ground zero” of the Republican onslaught that year.
The Nethercutt victory brought an end to a 30-year House career that was a textbook example of a traditional rise to power.
Thomas Stephen Foley was born on March 6, 1929, in Spokane, the only son of Ralph E. Foley, a county prosecutor and judge, and the former Helen Marie Higgins, a teacher whose family had been pioneers in Lincoln County, Wash.
He attended Gonzaga Preparatory School and Gonzaga University in Spokane before transferring to the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a law degree in 1957. Afterward, he joined the Spokane County prosecutor’s office, taught constitutional law at Gonzaga’s law school and worked in the office of the Washington State attorney general.
In 1960, he joined the staff of Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington as chief counsel and worked with him on the staff of the Senate Committee on the Interior. Senator Jackson, who was known as Scoop, was a mentor: Mr. Foley had known him since he was young, when Mr. Jackson would come for dinner at his parents’ house.
It was Senator Jackson who urged Mr. Foley to run against an 11-term Republican incumbent, Walt Horan, in 1964. He won in what was a great year for Democrats, who captured both houses of Congress as President Lyndon B. Johnson earned a full term in a landslide.
In 1968, Mr. Foley married Heather Strachan, a lawyer who became an unofficial chief of staff for her husband. In 1992, The New York Times wrote of her, “In contrast to her husband, a gentle, friendly man whose success was built on his congeniality, Mrs. Foley is blunt-spoken and strong-minded and has become increasingly resented and feared as her power has grown.”
Besides his wife, Mr. Foley is survived by a sister, Maureen Latimer.
Vacancies enabled Mr. Foley to rise quickly on the Agriculture Committee, a post of importance to his grain-growing constituents in eastern Washington. He was also an important figure in the reform movement in the House, leading the Democratic Study Group in 1974. Its key achievement was a rule enabling the Democratic caucus to elect committee chairmen.
Mr. Foley nominated the incumbent chairman of the Agriculture Committee, W. R. Poage of Texas, to continue in that post. But the caucus, spurred by 75 change-oriented freshmen elected in the wake of Watergate, rejected him and elected Mr. Foley instead. Two years later, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
He gave up both posts in 1981 when Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill and the majority leader, Mr. Wright, asked him to serve as Democratic whip, a rung on the leadership ladder that Mr. O’Neill had climbed. Another reason he took the job was that it offered him a chance to involve himself in broader issues, especially foreign policy.
After Mr. O’Neill retired and Mr. Wright became speaker in 1987, Mr. Foley advanced to majority leader, and to speaker on Mr. Wright’s resignation.
After leaving Congress, Mr. Foley was chairman of President Clinton’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1995 to 1997. He then served for three years as ambassador to Japan, a nation he had studied and frequently visited, in part to promote his district’s farm products.
Rather than retire, Mr. Foley remained in Washington, where he and his wife had built a house, and practiced law there at the blue chip firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. He and Jeffrey R. Biggs, his former press secretary, collaborated on a biographical book published in 1999, titling it “Honor in the House.” "
He was elected to the House in 1964 and served for 30 of the 40 consecutive years that his party controlled the chamber. Mr. Foley established himself from the outset as a conciliatory figure; one of his first acts after his election victory was to host a reception for the Republican incumbent he defeated to win the seat.
As he rose through the leadership ranks — from majority whip to majority leader and finally to speaker in 1989 — he became known as a consensus builder.
He helped forge a compromise that allowed the deficit-reducing Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation to go through in the mid-1980s. He publicly supported President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, on his controversial economic strategy. During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Mr. Foley helped him win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement despite opposition from many other Democrats.
He was a burly man with a commanding physical presence, but especially as speaker he did not seem to relish power. “There is a degree to which you can sort of push, encourage, support, direct,” he once told the New York Times. “But the Speakership isn’t a dictatorship.”
That outlook separated him from Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr., the powerful, back-slapping Massachusetts liberal who presided over the House in the late 1970s and through most of the 1980s, and from Jim Wright, the Texas Democrat who succeeded O’Neill and was criticized for heavy-handedness.
By the later years of the Democratic majority, the party was increasingly perceived to have grown arrogant with power. Then Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the future speaker of the GOP-controlled House, seized on the resentment to launch what became known as the Republican revolution.
One of his chief tools of political warfare — later wielded against him — was the ethics inquiry. His most prominent target was Wright, who resigned from Congress in 1989 amid a polarizing investigation into his book sales and personal business dealings.
Mr. Foley, then majority leader, succeeded Wright as speaker. For two more election cycles the Democrats held the House, but Republican momentum, fueled by Gingrich, was building. In the 1994 election, Mr. Foley was painted as a Washington insider — the figurehead of the unpopular Democratic House — and buffeted by calls to “De-Foley-ate Congress.” When he lost, he was the first House speaker to be unseated since Abraham Lincoln was president.
Major role in spite of himself
A grandson of homesteaders and son of a judge, Mr. Foley sometimes seemed out of place in the rough-and-tumble of Capitol Hill politics, even as he ascended to become, as House speaker, second in line of succession to the presidency. The New Yorker magazine once described him as a “major player almost in spite of himself.”
In the nation’s capital, he joined other Democrats in leading the series of historic reforms that reordered the House by dismantling its seniority-based system and decentralizing power among the subcommittees and individual members.
Mr. Foley stood to benefit from those reforms in 1975, when colleagues moved to replace entrenched chairmen including W.R. Poage (D-Tex.) of the Agriculture Committee. Mr. Foley, then the committee’s second-ranking Democrat, refused to partake in Poage’s ouster and instead rose to his defense. When Mr. Foley was elected chairman, he named Poage vice chairman.
“It was an extraordinary moment in House history,” former congressman Don Bonker (D-Wash.) told The Washington Post years later, remarking on the collegiality Mr. Foley had displayed.
After the 1980 election, Mr. Foley gave up the committee chairmanship to become majority whip. He drew wide attention in 1982, when he gave a televised speech calling on Democratic colleagues to cast a vote of “political courage” to support Reagan’s tax proposal.
“A star is born,” O’Neill, a political kingmaker as speaker, was quoted as saying shortly thereafter in admiration of Mr. Foley’s performance.
As majority leader, a post he assumed after the 1986 election, Mr. Foley became part of the troika that included Wright and Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), the party whip. Mr. Foley stood out as decidedly the least partisan of the three.
Some prominent Democrats expressed frustration with what they considered Mr. Foley’s excessive caution at a time when Republicans, led by Gingrich, appeared to be on the march. O’Neill was widely reported to have said that Mr. Foley could “argue three sides of every issue.”
“When you talk to Tom, you start biting your fingernails and you don’t stop until you’re up to your elbows,” former congressman Dan Rostenkowski, the powerful Illinois Democrat, once told Time magazine. “What he does is good, but sometimes getting there is frustrating.”
Characteristically, Mr. Foley acknowledged his critics’ points. But, he once told the New York Times, “I guess I don’t think caution is a bad attribute.
“I do look at problems from as many sides as possible,” he said. “I concede that. I say, ‘What about this? What about this?’ That’s how I decide what the best course should be.”
Mr. Foley’s speakership began with what was roundly described as an episode of unscrupulous partisanship.
At the time of his selection, the Republican National Committee released a memo titled “Tom Foley: Out of the Liberal Closet.” In what was described as an effort to cast doubt on Mr. Foley’s reputation as a moderate, the memo compared his voting record to that of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a liberal legislator who was openly gay.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle condemned the memo and its innuendo. Mr. Foley appeared on television and said that he was “of course, not a homosexual, been married for 21 years.”
Lee Atwater, the RNC chairman, apologized to him. President George H.W. Bush called the memo “disgusting.”
During the Bush years, Mr. Foley presided over the House during the passage of a landmark update to the Clean Air Act, expansions of the Head Start and Medicaid programs, the Americans With Disabilities Act and, most notably, the massive 1990 budget deal that established “pay-as-you-go” practices. That legislation forced Bush to break his “no new taxes” promise — a key issue in his 1992 reelection defeat — and split the Republican Party, with Gingrich leading the opposition.
During the Clinton administration, Congress passed a second massive budget deal that laid the groundwork for balancing the budget but stirred controversy because of the tax increases it imposed. Other legislative milestones, besides NAFTA, included passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
But the “primary significance” of his speakership, said Thomas E. Mann, the congressional scholar, was Mr. Foley’s leadership at a time of such turbulence in the House.
“It was a time when the House was unraveling,” he said, “and so it was a very difficult period, especially for someone like Foley who had . . . such respect for the institution and reverence for it.”
Mr. Foley’s Republican challenger in the 1994 election, George R. Nethercutt, benefited from Mr. Foley’s association with the deeply unpopular Congress. Contributing to voter dissatisfaction was the House banking scandal, in which it was discovered that members had been permitted to overdraw their accounts in the House bank. Mr. Foley was accused of responding ineffectively to the issue.
His district became a microcosm of all the turmoil and rancor in American politics — including, prominently, the widespread and heated debate over whether House members should be bound by term limits. In his campaign, Nethercutt highlighted Mr. Foley’s lawsuit challenging a ballot initiative setting such limits.
“I would never sue my constituents to save my job,” Nethercutt said in one campaign commercial. He won by about 4,000 votes.
Mr. Foley told reporters at the end of his speakership that, if he had any regret, it was that he had not conveyed “as effectively as I hoped we might, the work we do and some of the achievements that we have made and accomplished in this Congress.”
Nicknamed ‘the senator’
Thomas Stephen Foley was born March 6, 1929, in Spokane, Wash. While attending a Jesuit preparatory school, he was nicknamed “the senator” for his intellectual, methodical demeanor. The New York Times once reported that he defeated a lisp to become a top debater. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1951 and a law degree in 1957, both from the University of Washington.
Mr. Foley practiced law in Spokane before becoming a prosecutor and, later, assistant state attorney general. He became involved in politics through Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), who in 1961 hired him as a special counsel on the Interior and Insular Affairs committee and later encouraged him to pursue elective office.
While working for Jackson, Mr. Foley met Heather Strachan. They were married in 1968, by which time Mr. Foley had been elected to Congress. For years she worked as his unpaid administrative assistant and at times drew attention for the power she wielded on Capitol Hill. In one oft-recited episode, she dared to ask then-Speaker O’Neill during a meeting to put out his cigar. (He did.)
In his early years on Capitol Hill, Mr. Foley opposed the escalation of the Vietnam War and supported the Great Society programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who won a landslide victory the same year Mr. Foley joined the House.
Mr. Foley said in 1989 that, of his legislative achievements, he was most proud of his work on the Agriculture Committee to advance the food stamp program. He was credited with forging a partnership between advocates for farmers, who tended to be conservative, and advocates for increased social programs.
In 1997, Clinton selected Mr. Foley as U.S. ambassador to Japan, a post he held until 2001. In recent years, he lived largely out of the public spotlight in his home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, not far from the chamber that he had led through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.
He once reflected poignantly, and presciently, on the nature of political life.
“Sometimes I think it looks like it’d be fun to be committed in that sort of unreserved way to something — to have a life work about which there are no doubts,” he told the New York Times in 1990. “I sometimes envy people in the House who are engaged in stopping something. Most of my Congressional career, I’ve had to try to put together coalitions of support or worry about moving legislative efforts. . . . It’s a lot easier to blow up the bridges and to block the crossings.”