|Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker & House Minority Leader John Rhoades|
To me at least as someone who is not a Republican Howard Baker the former U.S. Senator from Tennessee and Republican Leader who served both as Minority Leader with a Democratic President in Jimmy Carter and Senate Leader under a Republican President in Ronald Reagan is one of the last great statesman in the Republican Party. A true leader and I’ll talk about his leadership later on. A true patriot someone who believed in country and governing first and always before politics.
There are so many examples of this, but go back to 1973 when a then Democratic Congress was looking at investigating the Nixon 1972 reelection campaign, as well as any involvement the Nixon Administration may of have in Watergate in other campaign violations. And the Senate took the lead in these investigations with the House coming later in their 1974 impeachment inquiry and Senate Baker at the time just starting his second term in the Senate was seen as both a Republican and Richard Nixon partisan and loyalist. Yet he serves as Ranking Member for the Republicans on the Senate select committee that investigated the Nixon reelect campaign.
And it was Senator Baker who had the most famous and I believe important line and question during that committee’s investigation. Which was “what did the President know and when did he know it?” He wasn’t there to defend a Republican President and his serve as President Nixon’s counsel, but to find out the truth of what happened during the Nixon campaign and even what happened during Watergate. And that is how he led the Republicans on that committee and how he worked with Senator Sam Ervin the Chairman of that committee who was also a Democrat.
And then you can go up to 1977 and through the Jimmy Carter Administration where President Carter a mainstream Liberal Democrat (even from Georgia) who had huge majorities in Congress with a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate in his first two years with sixty or sixty-one votes. And yet Howard Baker who had just become Senate Minority Leader the Republican Leader in the Senate in January, 1977 and who was called “President Carter’s best friend in Congress”, Howard Baker the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate. Because President Carter was what we call now a New Democrat a mainstream center-left Liberal. Not part of the FDR New Deal coalition or the George McGovern radical New Left that came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Jimmy Carter even though he had those huge Democratic majorities in Congress both House and Senate was dealing with a Democratic Leadership especially in the House and to a certain extent in the Senate that was much more progressive than he was and further to the Left. That when Democrats won the election going away in 1976 as far as not only winning back the White House, but retaining large majorities in Congress believed it was time to go back to the 1960s and expand the Great Society and go even further and creating large welfare state in America. But that wasn’t who Jimmy Carter was and he needed Republican votes in Congress to pass a lot of his agenda to prevent Senate Republicans and Southern Democrats in the Senate from blocking his agenda. So he turned to Howard Baker for his help.
And then you can go to 1981 where Ronald Reagan is not only now President after defeating President Carter in a landslide in 1980, but thanks to Reagan Senate Republicans win back the Senate for the first time since 1952. And now control the upper half of Congress the Senate and pick up thirty seats in the House to give them a fairly large minority in the House that could work with Southern Democrats in the House as well. Senate Minority Leader Baker now becomes Senate Leader Baker and now has to lead the Senate and govern and not just his caucus. Which is not easy with a 53-47 majority where you still need sixty votes to prevent legislation from being blocked. And he was able to work with a Democratic House and get deals with Senate Democrats and President Reagan to keep the trains moving.
I see Howard Baker as Bob Dole before Bob Dole became Senate Republican Leader replacing Leader Baker who had just retired. Because they were both loyal Republicans and loyal Conservatives as their voting records in Congress suggest. But they both believed in public service and knew how to be public servants and to govern. And of course would’ve rather have seen different legislation than what they produced with the agreements that they would get with Democrats and even to a certain extent moderate Republicans in their caucus. But at the end of the day they knew how to govern and how to count votes. And at the end of the day they needed to produce even if that meant producing really good legislation or good legislation instead of great, than that is what they would do to prevent crisis’s from happening.