Hyde Leaves Complex Legislative Legacy

Former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois has died at the age of 83. The Republican is best remembered as an anti-abortion crusader and the leader of the House impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, but he was more politically complex than the conservative caricature would suggest.

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Former Congressman Henry Hyde died today at the age of 83. Hyde was a Republican from Illinois. He retired from the House last year. And he may be most remembered for his unyielding anti-abortion views and his key role in the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, Hyde's legislative legacy is far less doctrinaire.

JULIE ROVNER: Henry Hyde was a freshman member of the minority party, when he offered an amendment to ban government funding of abortion in June of 1976. It didn't actually become law until more than a year later, after three separate Supreme Court rulings. But when it did, says Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, it changed the entire abortion debate.

Mr. DOUGLAS JOHNSON (Legislative Director, National Right to Life Committee): It forced every member of Congress to take a position on the issue. And it, of course, led to the development then of this question of human life and respect for human life becoming an important issue in our elections, in our political system. And he did that.

ROVNER: One of the House's most skilled orators, Hyde went on to defend the pro-life cause at every turn. As here, during a 1988 debate when he argued successfully to keep the abortion ban intact even in cases of rape or incest.

Mr. HENRY HYDE (Former Republican Representative, Illinois): The law protects the rapists, the Supreme Court had said, you may not impose capital punishment on a rapist. That's cruel and unusual punishment. But you are saying exterminate. Exterminate this innocently inconvenient residual of the rape.

ROVNER: On the other hand, Hyde was also a pragmatic legislator willing to compromise when he had to. For example, just five years later after Bill Clinton was elected president, Hyde himself added a rape and incest exception to the abortion funding ban, when it was either that or lose the funding ban entirely.

More recently, Hyde bucked President Bush and conservative Republicans by keeping a key anti-abortion provision out of a Global AIDS bill.

Paul Zeitz is executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

Dr. PAUL ZEITZ (Executive Director, Global AIDS Alliance): And he knew it was a deal breaker for the Democrats. And so he got them to compromise.

ROVNER: Zeitz said Hyde did include provisions in the AIDS bill on abstinence that many AIDS activists opposed. But he says Hyde really was what President Bush calls himself.

Dr. ZEITZ: I would call him a true compassionate, conservative, where he had conservative ideological agenda, but he was willing to advance the United States' role in the world by implementing large-scale initiative to demonstrate our compassion.

ROVNER: Hyde was not scandal-free during his three decades in public office. After he led the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, Hyde was revealed to have had his own extra marital affair, which he brushed off as a, quote, "youthful indiscretion" even though he was in his 40s at the time.

Still, says political scientist Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College, what set Hyde apart was not just his intellect or his oratorical skills or his legislative acumen, but rather, the whole man.

Mr. JACK PITNEY (Political Scientist, Claremont McKenna College): Henry Hyde, even though he had very strong opinions that a lot of people disagreed with, was not a demagogue, he was not somebody who was going to play to the galleries. Rather, he's going to persuade his colleagues through argument and reason, and for that reason, he's going to be missed.

ROVNER: Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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Former Congressman Henry Hyde Dies at 83

A smiling Henry Hyde photographed in 1999. i i

hide captionHenry Hyde served 16 terms in Congress. Here he speaks to reporters on Jan. 21, 1999. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he played a key role in the impeachment of President Clinton.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images
A smiling Henry Hyde photographed in 1999.

Henry Hyde served 16 terms in Congress. Here he speaks to reporters on Jan. 21, 1999. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he played a key role in the impeachment of President Clinton.

Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images
Then House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde and  ranking minority member Rep. John Conyers i i

hide captionHouse Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (left) speaks during impeachment proceedings Oct. 5, 1999, as ranking minority member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) looks on.

Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images
Then House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde and  ranking minority member Rep. John Conyers

House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (left) speaks during impeachment proceedings Oct. 5, 1999, as ranking minority member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) looks on.

Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images

 

 

Former Rep. Henry Hyde, the Illinois Republican who steered the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton and championed government restrictions on the funding of abortions, has died. He was 83.

Hyde's death was announced Thursday morning on Capitol Hill by the office of House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Mary Ann Schultz, a spokeswoman for Rush University Medical Center, said Hyde died at 3 a.m. Thursday at the Chicago hospital.

There was no immediate word on the cause of his death. Hyde had been in poor health and had a heart bypass operation last summer.

Hyde retired from Congress in 2006, after serving for more than 30 years. Just this month, President Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House praised Hyde, a leading foe of abortion, as a "powerful defender of life" and an advocate for a strong national defense.

"What often struck me most about Henry was his keen sense of our nation's history and of the gifts bestowed on our Republic by the Founding Fathers, whose actions and deeds were never far from his mind," Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement. "In his respect for the institutional integrity of the House of Representatives, Henry took second place to no one. He was a forceful advocate for maintaining the dignity of the House and for recognizing the sacrifices and struggles members make while in its service. Indeed, when Henry spoke in Committee or on the House floor, members on both sides of the aisle listened intently and they learned."

Said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee: "Chairman Hyde was a pioneer in the effort to protect human life, and because of his tireless efforts, there are thousands of people living around the world today who remember his service to mankind."

The white-maned, physically imposing Hyde was a throwback to a different era, a man who was genuinely liked by his opponents for his wit, charm and fairness. But he could also infuriate them with his positions on some of the more controversial issues of the day.

The Hyde Amendment

He made a name for himself in 1976, just two years after his first election from the district that includes O'Hare Airport, by attaching an amendment to a spending bill banning the use of federal funds to carry out abortions.

What came to be known as the "Hyde Amendment" has since become a fixture in the annual debate over federal spending, and has served as an important marker for abortion foes seeking to discourage women from terminating pregnancies.

Before the Hyde amendment became law in 1977, following a battle that led all the way to the Supreme Court, the federal government was paying for approximately 300,000 abortions each year. After its implementation, that fell to a few thousand.

"It's had a tremendous effect," said Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. "Over 30 years, by the most conservative estimate, there are at least 1 million Americans walking around today because of Mr. Hyde's amendment. More realistically, probably 2 million."

Hyde consistently defended his actions.

"You know what we do?" he said. "We tell poor women, 'You can't have a job. You can't have a good education. You can't have a decent place to live. I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll give you a free abortion, because there are too many of you people, and we want to kind of refine the breed.' And I tell you, if you read the literature, that's what's said and that's what is done."

Hyde was also a leader in passing the ban on so-called partial birth abortions, the first federal restriction on a specific abortion procedure. "The people we pretend to defend, the powerless, those who cannot escape, who cannot rise up in the streets, these are the ones that ought to be protected by the law," he said during the 2003 debate. "The law exists to protect the weak from the strong."

Abortion is an issue that the Irish-Catholic Hyde pursued as a matter of conscience. Clinton's impeachment, in contrast, was a matter thrust upon him.

Led Impeachment Efforts

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in 1998 Hyde led House efforts to impeach Clinton for allegedly lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and then in 1999 was the chief House manager in the unsuccessful bid to win a Senate conviction.

Hyde believed it was a just cause.

"So what if the president has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the presidency, has betrayed his trust as president and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people in the United States?" Hyde said. "That's an awful lot to dismiss with a brush-off, to ignore with a mere 'So what?' "

His Own Scandals

A reluctant warrior, Hyde saw his own reputation tarnished during the process when an online magazine revealed that he'd had his own affair with a married woman some 30 years before. Hyde, in his early 40s at the time of the affair, brushed it off as a "youthful indiscretion."

Hyde also had a potentially more serious brush with scandal. He was among 12 former directors and officers of the Clyde Federal Savings and Loan who were sued for gross negligence by federal regulators after the 1990 failure of the North Riverside, Ill.-based institution. That failure cost taxpayers an estimated $68 million.

Hyde, who left the S&L in 1984, insisted that he engaged in no wrongdoing and was the only director who refused to contribute to an $850,000 settlement that led to the lawsuit's dismissal in 1997.

Hyde soldiered on despite the certainty that the Senate would reject the impeachment charges. "All a congressman ever gets to take with him when he leaves is the esteem of his colleagues and constituents," Hyde said in his closing argument. "And we have risked that for a principle, for our duty as we have seen it."

Hyde was born April 18, 1924, in Chicago, where he became an all-city basketball center. After serving in the Navy from 1944 to '46, seeing combat in the Philippines, he graduated from Georgetown University in 1947 and returned to Chicago to earn a law degree from Loyola in 1949.

Raised a Democrat, he switched parties to vote for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. He worked as a Chicago trial lawyer before winning a seat in the Illinois House in 1966 and then in the U.S. House in 1974.

A conservative when the Republican Party was still dominated by moderates, Hyde gained elder statesman status when young conservatives propelled the GOP into control of the House in 1994.

Parting Ways with Conservatives

But he has also on occasion parted ways with his conservative colleagues: He strongly opposed a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress, and supported the Family and Medical Leave Act. He has also voted to ban certain types of assault weapons.

In the 1990s, he joined the Clinton administration in opposing the 1973 War Powers Resolution, an act restricting the president's authority to engage troops overseas that some GOP lawmakers sought to invoke to protest military operations in Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia.

In 2001, subject to term limits that House Republicans imposed on their own committee chairmen, Hyde stepped down as chairman of the highly partisan Judiciary Committee he had led since 1995 to take over the far less contentious International Relations Committee.

In addition to helping shape U.S. policy in the war on terrorism, Hyde in 2003 oversaw passage of a $15 billion bill to fight the international AIDS epidemic.

"Left unchecked, this plague will further rip the fabric of developing societies, pushing fragile governments and economies to the point of collapse," he said. "So to those who suggest that the United States has no stake in this pandemic, let me observe that the specter of failed states across the world certainly is our business."

Hyde is survived by four children and four grandchildren. His wife of 45 years, Jeanne Simpson Hyde, died in 1992.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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