Florida Congressman Dante B. Fascell Dies
By Richard Pearson
Dante B. Fascell, 81, a Florida Democrat who served in the House of Representatives for 38 years before retiring in 1993 as chairman of its Foreign Affairs Committee, died of cancer Nov. 28 at his home in Clearwater, Fla.
Mr. Fascell, who became chairman in 1984, is credited by many observers with being one of the most effective leaders of the committee, now the Committee on International Relations.
Like the vast majority of his constituents, he was a firm friend to the state of Israel and a foe of Cuban communism. He also championed a rational and liberal foreign aid program.
But mostly, he was an embodiment of what was long termed a "bipartisan foreign policy," in which the United States spoke to the world in a single voice, and that voice was usually the president's. If there was disagreement in the halls of Congress, that disagreement was largely muted before the world.
Politics involving foreign affairs became more divisive over the years, with divisions involving ideology, Latin America, the Middle East and, especially, Vietnam tearing at both major parties. Yet Mr. Fascell was a "centrist" by age and inclination, and was credited with pushing the real business of foreign affairs with skill and deceptive ease through his committee and the House.
Under Mr. Fascell, the committee served the country as a serious tool of public education on foreign affairs. He called for a more effective use of government radio propaganda abroad and for greater efforts in achieving international agreements addressing the dangers of chemical and biological warfare.
Mr. Fascell, who was listened to in both Republican and Democratic White Houses, sponsored the 1990 resolution that authorized the dispatch and use of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. Twenty years earlier, he had introduced what may have been the first War Powers bill in the House, intended to restrict presidential war-making ability, after the U.S. incursion into Cambodia in 1970.
Over the years, Mr. Fascell gained a reputation as a leading congressional authority on Latin America. A human rights advocate, in 1976 he became the first chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored compliance of what are popularly known as the Helsinki Accords.
He and Rep. William Broomfield (Mich.), then the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, were the first high-ranking U.S. officials to meet Mikhail Gorbachev when the last Soviet communist leader gained power.
When Mr. Fascell announced his retirement from Congress in 1992, Broomfield called upon the Bush White House to recruit Mr. Fascell for a senior diplomatic or national security post. Though Mr. Fascell returned to Miami and practiced law, he took temporary White House assignments from both the Bush and Clinton administrations.
Last month, President Clinton presented Mr. Fascell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, calling the former congressman a "man of reason and conscience" who was "courageous in war and public service."
Mr. Fascell's warm and productive working relationship with ranking Republicans on his committee contrasted sharply with divisive struggles that have at times nearly crippled the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If Mr. Fascell was not able to exert more influence on events, it was probably largely due to the institutional weakness of the House, as opposed to the Senate, in foreign affairs.
The Senate, unlike the House, ratifies all treaties and confirms high administration officials such as ambassadors. And, the powerful House Appropriations Committee exercises enormous clout over money for both foreign aid and the functioning of the State Department itself.
Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), a fellow Foreign Affairs Committee member, told the Associated Press that Mr. Fascell had a hand in almost every significant foreign policy move made by the United States from the 1960s into the 1990s.
Mr. Fascell, who was born on Long Island, N.Y., and grew up in Florida, was a 1938 graduate of the University of Miami law school. He practiced law in Miami both before and after serving with the Army in the Mediterranean theater during World War II. He served in the Florida State House from 1950 to 1954.
He was elected to the U.S. House to represent a south Florida district that included the Keys and the Miami area. He was a staunch supporter of both civil rights legislation and efforts to preserve the Everglades.
Before becoming chairman of the full committee, he had chaired Foreign Affairs subcommittees on inter-American affairs, international operations and State Department organization. He also had served on the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control and had chaired a House Government Operations subcommittee on legal and monetary affairs.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Jeanne-Marie Fascell of Clearwater; two daughters, Toni Strother of Miami and Sandra Diamond of Clearwater; a brother; a sister; and three grandchildren. A son, Dante John Fascell, died in 1984.
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