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Howard Baker: A Profile in Courage We Need Today

Howard BakerThe passing of Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) brings to mind a time when the US Congress was held in high esteem.[1]Senator Baker valued country above partisan politics. His passing provokes thoughts comparing the Congress of the 1970’s to the Congress of the 2010’s.

A Distinguished Career Highlighted by a Famous Question

Senator Baker served 18 years in the Senate, was Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and US Ambassador to Japan under President George H. W. Bush, but is best known as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities in 1973-74. This was the Senate Watergate Committee.

During the committee hearings, Senator Baker asked the famous question about President Richard Nixon and Watergate: “What did he know & when did he know it?”  Howard Baker, a Republican Senator asked the question about Republican President Richard Nixon.  With the country’s interests at stake, Baker wanted the truth. He was not the only congressional Republican.

1972PresElectA Crime and Election Victory Reminiscent

of George Washington

Early on June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington, D.C. Despite evidence connecting these men to Richard Nixon’s re-election efforts, on November 7, 1972, Nixon was re-elected.  He won 49 of 50 states. If not for Massachusetts,[2] Nixon would have been the first Electoral College unanimous selection by the states since George Washington.

Despite Nixon’s landslide, Democrats maintained a 56-44[3] Senate majority.  Also, in spite of the historic victory, revelations related to Watergate continued to haunt Nixon’s presidency.  Considering the extraordinary nature of Nixon’s re-election, and observing how the 21st Century Senate “works”, comprehension of what took place shortly after the election is difficult.

A UNANIMOUS Senate Vote To Investigate Nixon

On February 7, 1973, a unanimous Senate vote created a select committee[4] to investigate 1972 presidential campaign “irregularities”.  The Watergate break-in and revelations that followed were the catalysts. The Senate Watergate Committee was to investigate abuses of office by Richard Nixon.

Only three months before Nixon had won the home states of every Republican Senator, yet every Republican Senator voted to investigate the Republican president. All joined Senator Baker in putting the rule of law and the Constitution above party politics.

Senate Paves the Way for House Action

Senate committee hearings began on March 29, 1973, concluding on February 19, 1974. The House of Representatives[5] on February 6, 1974 voted 410-4 to investigate Richard Nixon’s possible impeachment. At least 168 Republicans joined the Democrats.[6]

On July 27, 1974, 7 Republicans, putting law and country above party, joined Judiciary Committee Democrats in recommending impeachment of a Republican president.  The committee’s reasons for Nixon’s removal included political use of the IRS, “failure to faithfully execute the law” and deception of the American public.  Richard Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974.  Among the factors:  217 votes of members of his own party in search of the truth.

Paperback Book Profiles in CourageWhere is the Democrat to Put Country above Party?

Forty years later, with questions surrounding the IRS, Benghazi, Fast & Furious, Extortion 17, the VA, the illegal release of committed enemies of the United States and more, why will not one Democrat member of Congress ask Howard Baker’s question?

Is there a Howard Baker among the Democrat Senators?  Maybe it’s Joe Manchin, Mark Begich or Tammy Baldwin.   Dianne Feinstein protested when American enemies were freed from Guantanamo in violation of the law, but soon became silent. Bill Nelson called for heads to roll over the VA, then nothing. Feinstein and Nelson had moments demonstrating a belief in law and the Constitution, but caught themselves

Even if missing emails, fake video stories, guns to drug dealers, loss of SEAL Team VI, deaths of American veterans and unlawful release of American enemies do not lead to President Obama, why not ask Baker’s first question on behalf of the American people? WHAT DID HE KNOW?

Profiles in Courage:  Required Reading for Senators

President Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, tells of 8 Whig, Republican and Democrat Senators who put principle and country above politics.  Every currently “serving” Senator should read it. It took a Howard Baker of the president’s party to obtain the truth forty years ago. It will require a Democrat with courage to do so now.

You will be missed Senator Baker.  With luck your example will inspire those we have chosen to lead, or will guide us to other leaders.


[1]A recent Gallup poll indicated 7% of the American people have confidence in Congress. In 1974, at the time of Senator Baker and his colleagues, Congress had the confidence of 40% of Americans.  Chicago’s late Mayor Richard J. Daley was correct:  “Good government is good politics.”

[2]The District of Colombia cast its three electoral votes, granted by the 23rd Amendment for George McGovern.  Also, one Virginia elector, despite Nixon carrying the state, voted for John Hospers, a Libertarian for president.

[3]The minority consisted of 42 Republicans, 1 Conservative and 1 Independent.

[4]The Congress conducts most business by way of standing committees devoted to specific topics such as taxes, commerce, veteran’s issues and more.  A “select” committee investigates a specific issue, usually for a limited period of time.

[5] Though the Senate started the investigation, the House has the sole power to impeach.

[6]The 4 no votes: Ben Blackburn (R-GA); Carlos Moorhead (R-CA); David Treen (R-LA) and Earl Landgrebe (R-IN). Without a Democrat to stand for the country and the Constitution, President Obama can and does dismiss everything as a Washington partisan squabble.  His assertion that “not a smidgen of corruption” exists at the IRS reminds one of Nixon’s famous “I am not a crook”.  Without Republicans testing Nixon, HE may have survived to the country’s detriment.  Without Democrats to seek the truth now, the country will be damaged, either with a crippled president or a lawless president.  If thorough investigation separates President Obama from IRS misuse, Benghazi deceptions, VA mismanagement, drug dealers getting weapons, the loss of SEAL Team VI and illegal release of American enemies, he will be stronger and the country better off.

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