Chief of Staff, 1987-1988


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In the midst of the Iran-Contra Affair, President Reagan decided to change was needed in his White House staff and he appointed a new White House Chief of Staff in early 1987. He asked former Senator Howard Baker to take the position. Baker retired from the Senate in 1984 to spend more time with his wife, recently diagnosed with cancer, and to contemplate a run for President in 1988. Instead, he accepted the President’s request to serve.

Baker was born into a prominent Huntsville, Tennessee family in 1925. He served in the Navy during World War II, received a law degree from the University of Tennessee, and then worked in the law firm founded by his grandfather. He met his first wife, the daughter of Senator Everett Dirksen (R‑Illinois), while working as campaign manager for his father’s successful 1950 Congressional campaign. When Baker won election to the Senate in 1966, after an earlier failed Senate bid, he became the first Republican ever popularly elected to the Senate from Tennessee.

In the early 1970s, Baker’s service on the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal, and his oft-quoted question “What did the President know and when did he know it?,” brought him national attention. Baker was elected Senate Minority Leader in 1977. He ran for the 1980 Republican Presidential nomination, but some of his positions – such as his support of the SALT I and Panama Canal Treaties – did not sit well with Republican primary voters, and he soon withdrew from the race. Baker became Senate Majority Leader after the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1981. In the Reagan Presidency’s crucial first year, Baker played a key role in getting the Reagan tax and budget agenda enacted by the Senate, and getting Congressional approval for the sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia. As the budget deficit increased in 1981-82, however, Baker broke with more conservative Republicans to support the new taxes in the 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA).

As Chief of Staff, Baker advised President Reagan on the full range of domestic and foreign policy issues. He helped the President and the Administration deal with the aftermath of Iran-Contra, and served President Reagan through two US-Soviet summits. However, the Democratic-controlled Congress was able to block most of President Reagan’s domestic initiatives in the wake of Iran-Contra, and in October 1987 the Senate rejected Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Baker decided not to run for President in 1988. Instead, he served as Chief of Staff until July of that year. He resigned citing his wife’s continued poor health and other personal concerns. Three years after his first wife died in 1993, Baker married former Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas. He served as US Ambassador to Japan from 2001 to 2005. Following this, Baker became Senior Counsel for Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, the descendent of the family law firm where he had first worked as a lawyer. Baker died on June 26, 2014, at his home in Huntsville, Tennessee.


Howard Baker’s files consists of four series, one of which is divided into two subseries: SERIES I: Subject File; SERIES II: Outgoing Correspondence; SERIES III: Congratulations File: Subseries A: Acquaintances and Officials; SERIES III: Congratulations File: Subseries B: Public Support File; and SERIES IV: Public Opinion Polls.


SERIES I: SUBJECT FILE, 1987-1988. (1.6 l.ft., Boxes 1-5)

This series consists of alphabetically arranged files pertaining to a wide range of domestic and foreign policy matters. Prominent topics include: economic issues, particularly the federal budget and the October 1987 stock market crash; relations with Canada, Japan, Western Europe, Central America, southern Africa, and the Middle East; US-USSR relations, including the Washington and Moscow Summits and the INF Treaty; agricultural policy; nominations to the Supreme Court, particularly the Robert Bork nomination; space policy; the Iran-Iraq War; the Iran-Contra affair; White House personnel and administrative matters; and long-range domestic affairs planning. Most of the material pertaining to foreign policy or Iran-Contra was still security classified, and closed to public research, at the time the Reagan Library processed this series.

Several folder titles contain dates, which generally appear to be the dates that the folders were created. Where the contents of such a folder cover a significantly different date span than the date in the folder title, the Reagan Library has added the contents’ date span to the folder.

SERIES II: OUTGOING CORRESPONDENCE FILE. March 1987-April 1988. (1.5 l.ft.

, Boxes 5-9)

This series consists of chronologically arranged photocopies of response letters that were sent over the signature of Howard Baker, or in a few cases, someone else on the White House staff. The incoming letters were not included within this series. Correspondents include members of the general public, members of Congress and the Executive Branch, interest groups, foreign officials, and acquaintances of Baker or other Administration people.

Most of the letters contain form response language: scheduling and invitation regrets, general expressions of thanks, birthday greetings, or descriptions of Administration positions on issues. Issues that are addressed include: tax and budget policy; relations with the USSR, Canada, Japan, China, or other foreign countries; Iran-Contra; nominations to the Supreme Court, particularly the Robert Bork nomination; abortion; and Baker’s decision not to run for President in 1988.

SERIES III: CONGRATULATIONS FILE. March 1987-April 1987. (2.4 l.ft)

This series consists of letters, cards and telegrams to Howard Baker congratulating him on his appointment as White House Chief of Staff, and a copy of the form response letter sent to each correspondent. It is split into two subseries, according to which form response was used. Close acquaintances and important officials received a different letter than other correspondents did.

SUBSERIES A: Acquaintances and Officials. March-April 1987. (0.8 l.ft., Boxes 9-11)

The correspondence within this subseries includes friends and acquaintances of Baker, business leaders, Republican Party officials, foreign officials, and celebrities. Most of the correspondence is routine: expressions of congratulations and support, or general offers to help the Administration. Some writers enclosed newspaper articles about Baker’s appointment. The subseries is arranged chronologically by date of response letter. (Note that there were days on which no responses were sent.)

SUBSERIES B: Public Support File. March-April 1987. (1.6 l.ft., Boxes 11-14)

This subseries consists of correspondence with the general public, including persons who knew or met Baker at various times during his life. Many writers included their views on US-Soviet relations or other issues of the day, or urged Baker to run for President in 1988. Many also enclosed newspaper articles pertaining to Baker’s appointment as Chief of Staff. The material is arranged chronologically by date of response letter. (Note that there were days on which no responses were sent.)

SERIES IV: PUBLIC OPINION POLLS. June-October 1987. (2 l.ft., Boxes 15-19)

Bound volumes of polls from Richard Wirthlin’s polling organizations, “Decision Making Information” (until Summer 1987) and “The Wirthlin Group.” Wirthlin first conducted polls for Ronald Reagan during the 1980 campaign. After Reagan became President, Wirthlin directed public opinion surveys for the White House, and regularly briefed the President and Cabinet officers on his findings. Arranged chronologically.

Last Updated: 03/02/2023 05:48PM

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