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Tom Foley
25th United States Ambassador to Japan
In office
November 19, 1997 – April 1, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded byWalter Mondale
Succeeded byHoward Baker
Chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board
In office
January 16, 1996 – November 19, 1997
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byWarren Rudman (acting)
Succeeded byWarren Rudman
49th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
June 6, 1989 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byJim Wright
Succeeded byNewt Gingrich
Leader of the House Democratic Caucus
In office
June 6, 1989 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byJim Wright
Succeeded byDick Gephardt
House Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1987 – June 6, 1989
SpeakerJim Wright
Preceded byJim Wright
Succeeded byDick Gephardt
House Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1987
LeaderTip O'Neill
Preceded byJohn Brademas
Succeeded byTony Coelho
Chair of the House Agriculture Committee
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1981
Preceded byWilliam Poage
Succeeded byKika de la Garza
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Washington's 5th district
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byWalt Horan
Succeeded byGeorge Nethercutt
Personal details
Thomas Stephen Foley

(1929-03-06)March 6, 1929
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
DiedOctober 18, 2013(2013-10-18) (aged 84)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Heather Strachan
(m. 1968)
EducationGonzaga University
University of Washington (BA, JD)

Thomas Stephen Foley (March 6, 1929 – October 18, 2013) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 49th speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1989 to 1995. A member of the Democratic Party, Foley represented Washington's fifth district for thirty years (1965–1995). He was the first Speaker of the House in over a century since Galusha Grow in 1862 to be defeated in a re-election campaign [1][2]

Born in Spokane, Washington, Foley attended Gonzaga University and pursued a legal career, after graduating from the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. He joined the staff of Senator Henry M. Jackson, after working as a prosecutor and an assistant attorney general. With Jackson's support, Foley won election to the House of Representatives, defeating incumbent Republican Congressman Walt Horan. He served as Majority Whip from 1981 to 1987, and as Majority Leader from 1987 to 1989. After the resignation of Jim Wright, Foley became Speaker of the House.

Foley's district had become increasingly conservative during his tenure, but he won re-election throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In the 1994 election, Foley faced attorney George Nethercutt. Nethercutt mobilized popular anger over Foley's opposition to term limits, which coincided with the Republican Revolution, leaving Foley as one of the highest-profile casualties.[3] After leaving the House, Foley served as the United States Ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton.

Early life, education, and legal career

Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Foley was the son of Helen Marie (née Higgins), a school teacher,[4] and Ralph E. Foley (1900–1985), a Superior Court judge for 34 years.[5] He was of Irish Catholic descent on both sides of his family;[6] his grandfather Cornelius Foley was a maintenance foreman for the Great Northern railroad in Spokane.[5]

Foley graduated from the Jesuit-run Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane in 1946 and attended Gonzaga University[7] for three years; he completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Washington in Seattle, then attended its School of Law and was awarded a Juris Doctor degree in 1957.

Following law school, Foley entered private practice. In 1958, he began working in the Spokane County prosecutor's office as a deputy prosecuting attorney,[8] and later taught at Gonzaga's School of Law (in Spokane) from 1958 to 1959. He joined the state attorney general's office in 1961 as an assistant attorney general.[8]

In 1961, Foley moved to Washington, D.C., and joined the staff of Senator Henry M. Jackson.[8] He left Jackson's office in 1964 to run for Congress.[8]

Congressional service

Official congressional portrait of Foley
Official portrait as chairman of the Agriculture Committee

In 1964, Foley was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Washington's 5th congressional seat,[9] which included Spokane. He faced 11-term Republican incumbent Walt Horan in the general election and won by seven points, one of many swept into office in the 1964 Democratic landslide. He was re-elected without significant difficulty until 1978, when in a 3-person race, he won only 48% of the vote. Two years later, he narrowly defeated Republican candidate John Sonneland (52% to 48%). Though the fifth district became increasingly conservative, Foley didn't face serious opposition again until his defeat in 1994. Foley voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,[10][11] the Civil Rights Act of 1968,[12][13] the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday,[14] and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (as well as to override President Reagan's veto).[15][16]

During his first term in the House, Foley was appointed to the Agriculture Committee and the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. He served on the latter committee through 1975, when he became chairman of the Agriculture Committee. In 1981, when Foley was appointed Majority Whip, he left the Agriculture Committee to serve on the House Administration Committee. Six years later, January 1987, he was elected House Majority Leader.

Speaker of the House

In June 1989, Jim Wright of Texas resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives (only the fourth speaker ever to resign) and from Congress amid a House Ethics Committee investigation into his personal business dealings.[17] In the June 6 election to succeed Wright, Foley was the victor, receiving 251 votes; his Republican opponent, Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, received 164 votes.[18]

During the 101st Congress, Foley presided over the House as it passed a landmark update to the 1963 Clean Air Act, measures protecting persons with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990. The budget act, a part of the massive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, established the "pay-as-you-go" process for discretionary spending and taxes, and was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on November 5, 1990, contrary to his 1988 campaign promise not to raise taxes. This became a significant issue during the 1992 presidential campaign.[19]

In 1993, the 103rd Congress passed an omnibus budget bill through which the government was able to raise additional revenue and balance the federal budget. Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 10, 1993, the measure stirred controversy because of the tax increases it imposed.[19] Under Foley's leadership Congress also passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act,[19] as well as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act plus legislation that laid the groundwork for the "Don't ask, don't tell" military service policy in 1993 which was then instituted by the Clinton Administration in 1994.

Term limits

During his time in the House, Foley repeatedly opposed efforts to impose term limits on Washington state's elected officials, winning the support of the state's voters to reject term limits in a 1991 referendum; however, in 1992, a term limit ballot initiative was approved by the state's voters.[8]

Foley brought suit, challenging the constitutionality of a state law setting eligibility requirements on federal offices. Foley won his suit, with a United States District Court declaring that states did not have the authority under the United States Constitution to limit the terms of federal officeholders.[20]

However, in Foley's bid for a 16th term in the House, his Republican opponent, George Nethercutt, used the issue against him, citing the caption of the federal case brought by Foley, "Foley against the People of the State of Washington". Nethercutt vowed that if elected, he would not serve more than three terms in the House, though he ultimately served for five. Foley lost in a narrow race. While Foley had usually relied on large margins in Spokane to carry him to victory, in 1994 he won Spokane by only 9,000 votes, while Nethercutt did well enough in the rest of the district to win overall by just under 4,000 votes. Since Foley left office, no Democrat has garnered more than 45 percent of the district's vote.

Foley became the first incumbent Speaker of the House to lose his bid for re-election since Galusha A. Grow in 1862. He is sometimes viewed as a political casualty of the term limits controversy of the early 1990s. President Clinton attributed Foley's defeat to his support for the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994.[21]

Later career

From 1995 to 1998, Foley was head of the Federal City Council, a group of business, civic, education, and other leaders interested in economic development in Washington, D.C.[22]

In 1997, Foley was appointed as the 25th U.S. Ambassador to Japan by President Bill Clinton,[23] and was part of the US government response to the deaths of Japanese schoolchildren caused by a US submarine. He served as ambassador until 2001.

Foley was a Washington delegate to the 2004 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions.[citation needed] On July 9, 2003, Governor Gary Locke awarded the Washington Medal of Merit, the state's highest honor, to Foley.[24] He was North American Chairman of the Trilateral Commission.[25]


Foley died at his home in Washington, D.C. on October 18, 2013, following months of hospice care after suffering a series of strokes and a bout with pneumonia.[26] He was 84 and was survived by his wife, Heather. Services were held at St. Aloysius Church at Gonzaga University, as well as in Washington, D.C.[27][28] Speaker John Boehner, and Nancy Pelosi, who had also served as Speaker, issued statements honoring Foley.[29] In a White House statement, President Barack Obama called Foley a "legend of the United States Congress" who "represented the people of Washington's 5th district with skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve.", going on to praise Foley for his bipartisanship and subsequent ambassadorial service under former President Clinton.[30] Vice President Joe Biden also released an official statement, saying "Tom was a good friend and a dedicated public servant.", citing his work in Congress with Foley in the 1980s on budgetary issues.[31] Washington Governor Jay Inslee also released a statement, acknowledging Foley's efforts to reach consensus and emphasize mutual common ground, and his work in the legal system and in Congress. Former President George H. W. Bush stated that Foley "represented the very best in public service--and our political system" and "never got personal or burned bridges."[32]


Electoral history

Congressional elections

  • November 3, 1964:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1964
* denotes incumbent     Source:[36]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley 84,830 53.45
Republican Walt Horan* 73,884 46.55
  • November 8, 1966:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1966
* denotes incumbent     Source:[37]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 74,571 56.54
Republican Dorothy R. Powers 57,310 43.46
  • November 5, 1968:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1968
* denotes incumbent     Source:[38]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 88,446 56.79
Republican Richard Bond 67,304 43.21
  • November 3, 1970:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1970
* denotes incumbent     Source:[39]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 88,189 67.03
Republican George Gamble 43,376 32.97
  • November 7, 1972:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1972
* denotes incumbent     Source:[40]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 150,580 81.25
Republican Clarice Privette 34,742 18.75
  • November 5, 1974:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1974
* denotes incumbent     Source:[41]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 87.959 64.35
Republican Gary Gage 48,739 35.66
  • November 2, 1976:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1976
* denotes incumbent     Source:[42]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 120,415 58.01
Republican Duane Alton 84,262 40.59
Libertarian D. E. Bear Sandahl 1,959 0.94
U.S. Labor Ira Liebowitz 935 0.45
  • November 7, 1978:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1978
* denotes incumbent     Source:[43]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 77,201 48.00
Republican Duane Alton 68,761 42.75
Independent Mel Tonasket 14,887 9.26
  • November 4, 1980:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1980
* denotes incumbent     Source:[44]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 120,530 51.90
Republican John Sonneland 111,705 48.10
  • November 2, 1982:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1982
* denotes incumbent     Source:[45]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 109,549 64.30
Republican John Sonneland 60,816 35.70
  • November 6, 1984:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1984
* denotes incumbent     Source:[46]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 154,988 69.68
Republican Jack Hebner 67,438 30.32
  • November 4, 1986:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1986
* denotes incumbent     Source:[47]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 121,732 74.72
Republican Floyd Wakefield 41,179 25.28
  • November 8, 1988:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1988
* denotes incumbent     Source:[48]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 160,654 73.39
Republican Marlyn Derby 49,657 23.61
  • November 6, 1990:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1990
* denotes incumbent     Source:[49]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 110,234 68.81
Republican Marlyn Derby 49,965 31.19
  • November 3, 1992:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1992
* denotes incumbent     Source:[50]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Foley* 135,965 55.18
Republican John Sonneland 110,443 44.82
  • November 8, 1994:
Washington's 5th congressional district election, 1994
* denotes incumbent     Source:[51]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican George Nethercutt 110,057 50.92
Democratic Tom Foley* 106,074 49.08

Speaker elections

  • June 6, 1989:
1989 intra-term Speaker of the House election – 101st Congress[18][52]
Party Candidate Votes Percent
Democratic Tom Foley (Washington) 251 60.19%
Republican Robert H. Michel (Illinois) 164 39.33%
Answered "present" 2 0.48%
Total votes: 417 100%
  • January 3, 1991:
1991 Speaker of the House election – 102nd Congress[18][53][54]
Party Candidate Votes Percent
Democratic Tom Foley (Washington) 262 61.07%
Republican Robert H. Michel (Illinois) 165 38.47%
Answered "present" 2 0.46%
Total votes: 429 100%
  • January 5, 1993:
1993 Speaker of the House election – 103rd Congress[18][53][55]
Party Candidate Votes Percent
Democratic Tom Foley (Washington) 255 59.16%
Republican Robert H. Michel (Illinois) 174 40.38%
Answered "present" 2 0.46%
Total votes: 431 100%


  1. ^ Langer, Emily (October 18, 2013). "Thomas S. Foley, former House speaker, dies at 84". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  2. ^ Post, The Washington Post | The Washington (October 18, 2013). "Thomas Foley, reluctant but powerful leader, dies at 84". The Denver Post. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  3. ^ "Thomas Foley, reluctant but powerful leader, dies at 84". Washington Post. October 18, 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  4. ^ "House speaker's mother dies at 88". Spokane Chronicle. (Washington). January 5, 1990. p. A1.
  5. ^ a b "Retired Judge Ralph Foley dead at 84". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. (obituary). April 17, 1985. p. A10.
  6. ^ "Foley, Thomas S. (1929-2013)". Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  7. ^ "Tom Foley". Spokane, Washington: The Gonzaga Bulletin. January 29, 2015. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e Song, Kyung M. (October 19, 2013). "Ex-House Speaker Tom Foley reigned in friendlier political era". Seattle Times. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  9. ^ "Horan, Foley express appreciation to voters". Spokane Daily Chronicle. September 16, 1964. p. 5.
  10. ^ "House – July 9, 1965" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 111 (12): 16285–16286. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  11. ^ "House – August 3, 1965" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 111 (14): 19201. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  12. ^ "House – August 16, 1967" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 113 (17): 22778. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  13. ^ "House – April 10, 1968" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 114 (8): 9621. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  17. ^ Smith, Timothy R. (May 6, 2015). "Jim Wright, House speaker who resigned amid an ethics investigation, dies at 92". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  18. ^ a b c d Jenkins, Jeffery A.; Stewart, Charles (2013). Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government. Princeton University Press. p. 366. ISBN 978-0-691-11812-3. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  19. ^ a b c Langer, Emily (October 18, 2013). "Thomas S. Foley, former House speaker, dies at 84". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  20. ^ Egan, Timonty (February 11, 1994). "Federal Judge Strikes Down Law Limiting the Terms of Lawmakers". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  21. ^ "My Life". Vintage. Archived from the original on July 31, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  22. ^ King, Colbert I. (September 8, 2007). "Fred, Did We Really Know You?". The Washington Post. p. A15; "Order in the House — and the Garage". Washington Business Journal. June 30, 1997. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  23. ^ Commentary: "Is Tom Foley the Wrong Man to Send to Tokyo?" BusinessWeek. May 12, 1997; Wudunn, Sheryl. "New U.S. Diplomat Tries to Speak Japan's Language," New York Times. April 8, 1998.
  24. ^ Fram, Alan (October 17, 2013). "Former Speaker of the House Tom Foley dies at 84". The Associated Press. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  25. ^ a b c d Trilateral Commission: Foley, bio notes Archived February 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Clymer, Adam (October 18, 2013). "Thomas Foley, House Speaker, Dies at 84; Democrat Urged Parties to Collaborate". The New York Times.
  27. ^ "Tom Foley, former speaker of the US House, dies at age 84". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  28. ^ "Former Speaker of the House Tom Foley dies at 84 - - Oct. 18, 2013". October 18, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  29. ^ Tom Kludt (October 18, 2013). "Boehner, Pelosi Pay Tribute To Former Speaker Foley". Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  30. ^ "Statement by the President on the Passing of Tom Foley". October 18, 2013 – via National Archives.
  31. ^ "Statement by the Vice President on the Passing of Tom Foley". October 18, 2013 – via National Archives.
  32. ^ "Former House Speaker Tom Foley dead at 84". CNN. October 18, 2013.
  33. ^ Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: FOLEY, Thomas Stephen, (1929 - 2013); Retrieved October 19, 2013
  34. ^ Tom Hayden, Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America, p. 116; Retrieved October 19, 2013
  35. ^ Deshais, Nicholas (August 27, 2018). "Say Hello to the new Foley Highway". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved September 24, 2018.
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  39. ^ "WA District 5 (1970)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  40. ^ "WA District 5 (1972)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  41. ^ "WA District 5 (1974)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  42. ^ "WA District 5 (1976)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  43. ^ "WA District 5 (1978)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  44. ^ "WA District 5 (1980)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  45. ^ "WA District 5 (1982)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  46. ^ "WA District 5 (1984)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  47. ^ "WA District 5 (1986)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  48. ^ "WA District 5 (1988)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  49. ^ "WA District 5 (1990)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  50. ^ "WA District 5 (1992)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  51. ^ "WA District 5 (1994)". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  52. ^ "Election of the Speaker (House of Representatives – June 06, 1989)". Congressional Record – 101st Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. pp. H2282–2283. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  53. ^ a b Heitshusen, Valerie; Beth, Richard S. (January 4, 2019). "Speakers of the House: Elections, 1913–2019" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress. p. 6. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  54. ^ "Election of the Speaker (House of Representatives – January 03, 1991)". Congressional Record – 102nd Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. pp. H2–3. Archived from the original on March 21, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  55. ^ "Election of the Speaker (House of Representatives – January 05, 1993)". Congressional Record – 103rd Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. pp. H2–3. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2019.

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Washington's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the House Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by House Majority Whip
Succeeded by
Preceded by House Majority Leader
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Response to the State of the Union address
Succeeded by
Preceded by Response to the State of the Union address
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board
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Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Japan
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