Thomas Foley, 84; was House speaker
WASHINGTON - Thomas Foley, 84, the speaker of the House who became the highest-profile casualty in the Republican "revolution" of 1994, the election that ended the Democratic Party's hammerlock on the House and signaled the start of a furious new era in political warfare, died Thursday at his home in the District of Columbia.
His wife, Heather Foley, confirmed the death and said the cause was complications from strokes. The Washington state congressman had been ailing from conditions including aspirational pneumonia and Bell's palsy, a nerve disorder.
Mr. Foley was one of Capitol Hill's most outspoken critics of the extreme partisanship that emerged toward the end of his career.
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.
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 Bill Clinton's administration, Mr. Foley helped the president 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 "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.
Despite the ongoing infighting, the House achieved a number of legislative milestones during Mr. Foley's speakership, which spanned 51/2 years, from the early months of the George H.W. Bush administration through the first half of Clinton's first term.
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.