Howard Baker, former US senator, White House chief of staff and practicing lawyer, is dead at 88


Photo courtesy of Baker Donelson.

Howard Baker Jr., a longtime Republican leader in the U.S. Senate who also took the helm at the White House and steered President Ronald Reagan into calmer waters as chief of staff for a 17-month period during the late 1980s, has died. He was 88 years old.

Perhaps best-known for a famous question he asked White House counsel John Dean during the televised Watergate committee hearings–“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”–the Tennessee lawmaker was a straight shooter who believed in civility and was known for his ability to help people work together productively, reports Bloomberg.

“We are doing the business of the American people,” Baker said in a 1998 speech to members of Congress, explaining his philosophy of government. “And if we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree, or that we don’t like, we would soon stop functioning altogether.”

His accomplishment-packed career also included serving as U.S. ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush. At one point, he practiced law alongside his father, the late U.S. Rep. Howard H. Baker, at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz–a law firm his grandfather helped found, according to his online profile at the firm. He rejoined the firm in 2005.

A spokesman for the firm announced Thursday that Baker had died earlier in the day, at his home in Huntsville, Tenn., of complications from a June 21 stroke. He is survived by his wife, former U.S. Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, and their two children and four grandchildren.

“The Senator helped shape our nation’s laws with his sense of justice and his desire to have all people’s views heard,” said Lewis R. Donelson III, co-founder and senior counsel of of Baker Donelson in a press release. “I am privileged to have been his friend and to have built a firm along his side that embodies his principles.”

“Senator Baker was renowned and honored for his extraordinary ability to cross party lines for the greater good of our country,” added Scott Campbell, senior public policy advisor and managing director of Baker Donelson’s Washington, D.C., office. “He was a remarkable conciliator who was respected in Washington like no other and he helped navigate our country through some of our greatest challenges.”

His death was also announced on the Senate floor by Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who called Baker “one of the Senate’s most towering figures,” reports the New York Times (reg. req.).

The Associated Press, McClatchy’s Washington Bureau and the Washington Post (reg. req.) have obituaries.

Updated at 2:32 p.m. to include info from the firm’s press release.

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