US & Canada

Former US House Speaker Tom Foley dies

US President Clinton is applauded by Vice President Al Gore and House Speaker Tom Foley (r) as he addresses a joint session of Congress on 22 September 1993
Image caption Foley (right) served as House speaker during two US presidencies

A former US Speaker of the House of Representatives who was credited with reaching across the aisles in a less bitterly divided Congress has died.

Tom Foley, 84, died of complications from a stroke on Friday, his wife said.

Born and raised in the north-western US state of Washington, the Democrat served in the House for 30 years and was speaker from 1989-1995.

"America has lost a legend of the United States Congress," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

"Tom's straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties," Mr Obama said.

Praise from Boehner

As speaker, he was an active negotiator in the 1990 budget talks that led to President George HW Bush breaking his pledge to never raise taxes.

"Tom never got personal or burned bridges," Mr Bush said on Friday. "We didn't agree on every issue, but on key issues we managed to put the good of the country ahead of politics."

Foley also allowed the House to vote on the resolution that approved the 1990 Iraq war, despite his own personal reservations and the objections of many fellow Democrats.

"He granted our request for a vote because it was the right thing to do," Bob Michel, the Republican minority leader at the time, said. "He was that kind of leader."

But Foley became the first House Speaker to be ousted by voters in his own constituency - as opposed to through a majority change in the chamber or a no-confidence vote from his own party - since the US Civil War.

He was defeated by 4,000 votes in November 1994 by Spokane lawyer George Nethercutt, a Republican who supported term limits, which Foley had long fought.

That was the year of the so-called Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich, who became House Speaker in 1995.

On Friday, the current House Speaker, John Boehner, called Foley "a model for any speaker or representative".

"Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Mr Boehner said.

After leaving the House, Foley served as US ambassador to Japan for four years.