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."
Henry John Hyde was born in Chicago on April 18, 1924. His father worked for the city emptying pay-phone coin boxes. The Hydes lived in suburban Evanston, but the Depression cost them their house. They moved to the city, where they lived in an apartment over a saloon.
Mr. Hyde first came to Washington on a Georgetown basketball scholarship but dropped out after his freshman year to join the Navy. Commissioned an ensign in 1944, he served on amphibious ships in the South Pacific, New Guinea and the Lingayen Gulf.
He returned to Georgetown after the war and received an undergraduate degree in 1947. He earned a law degree at Loyola University in Chicago in 1949.
Although Mr. Hyde had grown up in a Democratic household and voted for Harry Truman in 1948, he switched parties after becoming a trial lawyer in Chicago.
"I became concerned that communism was a serious threat," he told The Post years later. "I became worried that my government had a blind spot as to the Soviet Union's intentions. I was worried that Mr. Roosevelt was too cozy with this guy Stalin."
He voted for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and officially became a Republican in 1958.
Elected to the Illinois House in 1967, he encountered what would become his signature issue when a colleague asked him to cosponsor an abortion rights law in 1968. Despite his Irish-Catholic upbringing, he told The Post he had never given much thought to the issue. Once he began reading on the matter, he realized he had to oppose it.
He first ran for Congress in 1962 "as a lark," but lost a close race. Elected in 1974, he joined a Congress controlled by Democrats and quickly made a national name for himself as an impassioned abortion foe.
The contentious issue wasn't the only one that occupied Mr. Hyde's legislative talents. During congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra scandal, he was one of the most outspoken public defenders of the Reagan White House and the man at the center of the scandal, then-Lt. Col. Oliver North.
Mr. Hyde experienced a brush with scandal a few years later. He was one of 12 former directors and officers of an Illinois savings and loan business who were sued by federal regulators for gross negligence after the 1990 failure of the institution, which cost taxpayers an estimated $68 million. Mr. Hyde, who left the business in 1984, said he had not engaged in any wrongdoing and was the only director who refused to contribute to an $850,000 settlement that led to the lawsuit's dismissal in 1997.
His influence remained undiminished. He was a House leader in the passage of most of the elements of the Republican leadership's Contract with America, pushed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich after the party took control of Congress in 1994.
Despite his adherence to deeply conservative principles, he wasn't always a predictable GOP voter. He argued forcefully against term limits, one of the key elements of the Contract with America. He called them "the dumbing down of democracy."
He supported the Brady Bill, legislation that imposed a waiting period on gun purchases, and, after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, he backed 24-hour background checks for gun sales at gun shows.
He also supported a ban on assault weapons. They "have no other purpose than to kill a lot of people in a hurry," he said.
Last year, Mr. Hyde questioned efforts of the Bush administration to spread democracy. "The magic formula of democracy alone" will not work, he said.
In 2001, Mr. Hyde became chairman of the House International Relations Committee (now the Committee on Foreign Affairs). He had wanted to continue as chairman of the Judiciary Committee but was unable to secure a waiver of the GOP's term-limit requirement for the position.
He announced in 2005 that he would retire at the end of his term, citing back problems and other ailments that made it difficult to get around.
He hated to leave, he told friends and former colleagues at a dinner last year.
"When I cross the river for the last time," he said, echoing comments that Gen. Douglas MacArthur made about the Army, "my thoughts will be of the House, the House, the House."
His wife of 45 years, Jeanne Simpson Hyde, died in 1992. His eldest son, Henry "Hank" Hyde Jr., died in 2005.
Survivors include his wife, Judy Wolverton of Chicago, his former chief of staff whom he married last year; three children from his first marriage, Robert Hyde of Irving, Tex., Laura Hyde of Chicago and Anthony Hyde of Elk Grove, Ill.; and five grandchildren.