Former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker Dies

Former United States Senator and Ambassador Howard H. Baker reads a tribute at the memorial service for former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.
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(CNN) -- Former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, a one-time towering political figure in Washington who also served as a chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, has died, his former spokesman said.

He was 88.

A Tennessee Republican, Baker made his political mark over four decades, serving as majority leader and also ran for president in 1980.

Baker's former press secretary, Tom Griscom, confirmed that he died on Thursday.

A statement released by Baker's wife, former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, and his two children from his first marriage, Darek Baker and Cynthia (Cissy) Baker, said his death was a "time of sorrow and also a time for the celebration of a remarkable life."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would be remembered "with fondness by members of both political parties."

Baker was first elected to the Senate in 1964 and led the chamber from 1981-85. He was Reagan's chief of staff from 1987-88, and was ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush.

"Howard Baker loved this country and served it well in a life dedicated to public service. He was Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate and Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan. Howard Baker was a dedicated public servant, but more importantly, a dedicated husband and father. Our prayers will remember Nancy and the entire Baker family,” said Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS).

“Senator Baker was a true statesman who dedicated his extraordinary life to serving our country. From the South Pacific in World War II and the Watergate trial, to his leadership of the U.S. Senate and the Reagan White House, Senator Baker was an iconic political figure and remarkable American. I am honored to have met him," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS). "I wish to send my deepest sympathies to Howard’s wife, former Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum"

CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger said some called him the "great conciliator" for his political skills in an era when Democrats and Republicans often compromised to get things done in Washington.

"He was one of those senators who could walk across the aisle, cut deals and he was respected on both sides," Borger said. "Today in the Republican Party, that would be taken as a negative."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement that she and her husband had "the greatest respect" for Baker's dedication to service.

"Howard was one of Ronnie's most valued advisers, his integrity and ability to create cooperation between the Congress and the White House was unparalleled," she said. "Most importantly, though, he was a good and trusted friend."

Baker also played a key role in the Watergate investigation that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

As the vice chairman and ranking Republican of the investigation into Nixon's connection to the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, Baker famously asked "what did the President know and when did he know it."

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Posted by: Nick Viviani