Republicans and Democrats praised Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) as a trailblazer and a dynamic leader after she died early Friday of injuries from a fall at her home last week.
The 88-year old was the oldest member of Congress, dean of New York’s House delegation and the first woman to chair the powerful Rules Committee, which determines which bills are considered by the full House. She remained the panel’s top Democrat until her death.
Liam Fitzsimmons, the congresswoman’s chief of staff, announced that shedied early Friday, surrounded by family at George Washington University Hospital.
A native of Harlan County, Ky., she had a distinct twang and delivery that she employed to critique Republican policy with regularity from the dais and on the House floor. Elected to Congress in 1986, she previously served in the New York State Assembly from 1982 to 1986 and the Monroe County Legislature between 1976 and 1979.
She was the only microbiologist in Congress and a former blues and jazz singer.
Members of Congress were effusive in their tributes to Slaughter.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who visited Slaughter at the hospital on Thursday, called her “a trailblazer.”
“Her strong example inspired countless young women to know their power, and seek their rightful place at the head of the decision-making table,” Pelosi said. “She took great pride in representing the area around the historic Seneca Falls Convention, and embraced the future with her forceful engagement on social media.”
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), chairman of the Rules Committee, said Slaughter “was a force to be reckoned with, who always brought her spunk, fire and dynamic leadership to every meeting.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) ordered flags above the Capitol to be lowered to half-staff in memory of Slaughter.
“@LouiseSlaughter was tough, unfailingly gracious, and unrelenting in fighting for her ideas. She was simply great,” Ryan tweeted.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Slaughter loved “the debate and was an outspoken advocate,” but always showed respect for those on the other side of the issue — “an example for all Americans that we can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Slaughter “a giant,” adding: “She had deep convictions — on both issues important to the people of Rochester, and for the integrity and honesty of the political system.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who is in line to succeed Slaughter on the Rules Committee, said that “as the daughter of a blacksmith in Kentucky, Louise never forgot where she came from, serving as a powerful voice for working families. “
Slaughter’s passing marks an ongoing depletion of the House Democratic caucus’s top ranks.
In December, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), 88, who had been the longest-serving member of Congress and the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, resigned in disgrace amid accusations of sexual misconduct. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), 86, once the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is set to retire after this year. And Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), 72, is stepping down as he is embroiled in ongoing federal corruption investigations.
Speculation — driven by younger members expressing a desire for change — also continues about the future of Pelosi, 77, and her leadership team of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), 78, and James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), 77.
Slaughter was a lead author of the Stock Act, passed in 2012 to curb insider trading among lawmakers and congressional aides, a co-author of the Violence Against Women Act, and a longtime advocate for women’s rights and funding for women’s health programs.
Slaughter’s Rochester-area seat, redrawn in 2011 to reelect her, is safely Democratic. Voters there overwhelmingly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.
In 2014, Slaughter almost lost reelection, eking out a win by fewer than 1,000 votes. Her closer-than-anticipated victory made Republicans look again at the district, but she ran a more serious campaign in 2016 and defeated her GOP opponent by 12 points.
Potential successors include Lovely Warren, 40, the first black female mayor of Rochester whom New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) once almost selected as his lieutenant governor. Under state law, Cuomo will have to determine the date of a special election, or keep the seat vacant until November’s elections.