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Tribute to Thomas S. Foley, 57th Speaker of the House

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to former House Speaker Thomas ``Tom'' S. Foley, the 57th Speaker of the House of Representatives and a man whose love for this chamber and whose commitment to public service was unsurpassed. Speaker Foley died Friday, October 18, at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 84 years old.

Tom Foley was in every sense of the word a gentleman. He believed in bipartisanship. He treated everyone equally and with respect. Upon relinquishing the Speakership, he left these parting words of advice to this successor, incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich: ``Remember, you are the Speaker of the whole House and not just one party.''

The environment of the House of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Foley was marked by mutual respect and cooperation, which enabled the Congress to work with the President and pass legislation that made our country better.

During Tom Foley's speakership, the Congress passed, and the President signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991; the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT); the 1994 Crime Bill which put 100,000 new police offers on the streets and banned assault weapons and reduced crime rates by more than a third; and the 1993 Clinton Economic Plan that led to the creation of 22 million jobs, four balanced budgets, and the longest period of sustained economic prosperity in the post-war period.

Thomas Stephen Foley was born March 6, 1929, in Spokane, Washington. He attended a Jesuit preparatory school, where he acquired the nickname ``the senator'' for his intellect and the way he solved problems. He is reported to have overcome a lisp to excel in debate and to earn his baccalaureate degree from the University of Washington in 1951. Six years later, Tom Foley was admitted to the bar after graduating from the University of Washington School of Law. He practiced law in Spokane prior to becoming a prosecutor and later an assistant state attorney general.

In 1960, he joined the staff of his mentor, the legendary Senator Henry ``Scoop'' Jackson (D-WA), and moved to Washington, D.C., where he met his future partner in life, his beloved Heather, whom he married in 1968, and who remained by his side for the next 45 years and was with him when he died.

Mr. Speaker, in 1964 Tom Foley defeated an 11-term incumbent and was elected by the people of the 5th Congressional District of Washington to represent them in the House of Representatives. He was reelected to the next succeeding 14 Congresses.
Over those 30 years, Tom Foley compiled a truly impressive record. He sought and obtained a seat on the Agriculture Committee to advocate on behalf of his constituents in the wheat-growing region of eastern Washington.

Tom Foley was an accomplished legislator. One of his major achievements as a member of the Agriculture Committee was the grand bargain he crafted which led to the enduring partnership between conservative farmers and progressive supporters of nutrition programs.

Mr. Speaker, Tom Foley was an unwavering advocate for progressive policies and a formidable opponent of policies he believed were harmful to the interests of the poor, workers, or women. He supported President Johnson's Great Society Programs and voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He also supported a strong national defense and sensible foreign policy, which is why he opposed the escalation of the Vietnam War.

After the watershed election of 1974, he was elected by his colleagues to chair the Agriculture Committee, a position he held until 1981, when he was appointed Majority Whip by then Speaker Thomas P. ``Tip'' O'Neill. When Speaker O'Neill was succeeded by Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-TX), Tom Foley was elevated to the post of Majority Leader and served in that post until June 6, 1989 when he was elected Speaker of the House upon the resignation of Speaker Wright.

Tom Foley was Speaker of the House in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush launched Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf War. Thanks in large part to the spirit of bipartisanship that Tom Foley embodied, the nation remained unified throughout the Persian Gulf War.

Following Speaker Foley's service in the House of Representatives he served with distinction as U.S. ambassador to Japan during the second Clinton Administration. In recognition of his exceptional service to our country, in 2001 the federal courthouse in Spokane, Washington was renamed the Thomas S. Foley United States Courthouse.

Today, one of the things cited most as being what is wrong with Congress is the environment of hyper partisanship which is threatening the ability of the House to fulfill its function.

It is my hope that we all remember and learn from the example of Speaker Foley that civility is a virtue, that compromise is not weakness, and that it is possible for persons of goodwill to disagree without being disagreeable.

Thank you, Speaker Thomas S. Foley, for your service to our nation. You made the People's House a better place by promoting mutual respect and cooperation.


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