Henry J. Hyde, 83; Forceful GOP House Member

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) spoke at a news conference in 1998 before impeachment hearings began against President Bill Clinton, which he called
As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) spoke at a news conference in 1998 before impeachment hearings began against President Bill Clinton, which he called "this melancholy procedure." (By Ray Lustig -- The Washington Post)

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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007

Henry J. Hyde, 83, an influential Illinois Republican who sponsored landmark antiabortion legislation, managed impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton and maintained ties of bipartisan civility during more than three decades in the House of Representatives, died Nov. 29 at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Mary Ann Schultz, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Mr. Hyde, who had open-heart surgery in July, was admitted for persistent renal failure related to his heart condition, and died of arrhythmia.

Mr. Hyde, an eloquent speaker and adept legislator, overcame opposition in both major parties to secure passage of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortions for low-income women. It was the first significant victory for the antiabortion movement after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made abortion legal. The funding ban, which survived a Supreme Court challenge in 1980, has been added to congressional spending bills every year since 1977.

He was also a leader in 2003 of the ban on what abortion opponents call partial-birth abortions, the first federal restriction on an abortion procedure.

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 1998, Mr. Hyde led House efforts to impeach Clinton on suspicion of lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In 1999, Mr. Hyde was the chief House manager in the unsuccessful effort to win an impeachment conviction from the Senate.

Describing the impeachment as "this melancholy procedure," Mr. Hyde said Clinton's conduct demeaned the office of the president, the president himself and the laws of the land. He said that "future generations of Americans must know that such behavior is not only unacceptable but bears grave consequences, including loss of integrity, trust and respect."

Tall, white-maned and imposing, the former Georgetown University basketball player who represented Illinois's 6th Congressional District could be ferocious in support of bedrock conservative causes, but he was known for his easy humor and cordial relations with members of the opposition.

"He's ideologically quite passionate, but he doesn't allow that passion to make him unfair," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told The Washington Post on the eve of the impeachment inquiry.

Mr. Hyde's reputation for civility and evenhandedness was tested by the impeachment ordeal. Critics accused him of losing control of the proceedings to firebrands in his party. "I had thought that Hyde would run a fair and impartial process," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). "And he has run a kangaroo court instead."

During the proceedings, Mr. Hyde's reputation was tarnished when the online magazine Salon disclosed an affair he had with a married woman in the 1960s. The congressman acknowledged the five-year relationship but called it a "youthful indiscretion." Critics noted that he was in his 40s when it occurred.

Mr. Hyde, a 32-year veteran of the House, retired last year. This month, President Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"This fine man believed in the power of freedom, and he was a tireless champion of the weak and forgotten," Bush said in a statement yesterday. "He used his talents to build a more hopeful America and promote a culture of life."

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