James Addison Baker III (born April 28, 1930) is an American attorney and political figure. He served as White House Chief of Staff and United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, and as U.S. Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff under President George H. W. Bush.
Born in Houston, Baker attended The Hill School and Princeton University before serving in the United States Marine Corps. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, he pursued a legal career. He became a close friend of George H. W. Bush and worked for Bush's unsuccessful 1970 campaign for the United States Senate. After the campaign, he served in various positions for President Richard Nixon. In 1975, he was appointed Undersecretary of Commerce for Gerald Ford. He served until May 1976, ran Ford's 1976 presidential campaign, and unsuccessfully sought election as the Attorney General of Texas.
Baker ran Bush's unsuccessful campaign for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, but made a favorable impression on the Republican nominee, Ronald Reagan. Reagan appointed Baker as his White House Chief of Staff, and Baker remained in that position until 1985, when he became the Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, he arranged the Plaza Accord and the Baker Plan. He resigned as Treasury Secretary to manage Bush's successful 1988 campaign for president. After the election, Bush appointed Baker to the position of Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, he helped oversee U.S. foreign policy during the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union, as well as during the Gulf War. After the Gulf War, Baker served another stint as White House Chief of Staff from 1992 to 1993.
Baker remained active in business and public affairs after Bush's defeat in the 1992 presidential election. He served as a United Nations envoy to Western Sahara and as a consultant to Enron. During the Florida recount following the 2000 election, he managed George W. Bush's legal team in the state. He served as the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, which Congress formed to study Iraq and the Iraq War. He serves on the World Justice Project and the Climate Leadership Council. Baker is the namesake of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
James Addison Baker was born in Houston at 1216 Bissonnet, the son of James A. Baker, Jr. (1892–1973) and Ethel Bonner (née Means) Baker (August 6, 1894 – April 26, 1991). His father was a partner of Houston law firm Baker Botts. Baker has a sister, Bonner Baker Moffitt. His grandfather was attorney and banker James A. Baker, Sr., and his great-grandfather was jurist and politician James Addison Baker the elder.
Baker attended The Hill School, a boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Princeton University in 1952 with an A.B. in history cum laude. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta. Baker was a member of the United States Marine Corps from 1952 to 1954, attaining the rank of First Lieutenant as a naval gunfire officer serving in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS Monrovia. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1958, and rose to the rank of Captain. He earned an LLB (1957) from The University of Texas at Austin and began to practice law in Texas.
From 1957 to 1969, and then from 1973 to 1975 he practiced law at the law firm of Andrews & Kurth.
Baker's first wife, the former Mary Stuart McHenry, was active in the Republican Party, working on the Congressional campaigns of George H. W. Bush. Originally, Baker had been a Democrat but too busy trying to succeed in a competitive law firm to worry about politics, and considered himself apolitical. His wife's influence led Baker to politics and the Republican Party. He was a regular tennis partner of George H. W. Bush at the Houston Country Club in the late 1950s. When Bush Sr. decided to vacate his Congressional seat and run for the U.S. Senate in 1969, he supported Baker's decision to run for the Congressional seat he was vacating. However, Baker changed his mind about running for Congress when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer; she died in February 1970.
Bush Sr. then encouraged Baker to become active in politics to help deal with the grief of his wife's death, something that Bush Sr. himself had done when his daughter, Pauline Robinson (1949–1953), died of leukemia. Baker became chairman of Bush's Senate campaign in Harris County, Texas. Though Bush lost to Lloyd Bentsen in the election, Baker continued in politics, becoming the Finance Chairman of the Texas Republican Party in 1971. The following year, he was selected as Gulf Coast Regional Chairman for the Richard Nixon presidential campaign. In 1973 and 1974, in the wake of the Nixon Administration's implosion, Baker returned to full-time law practice at Andrews & Kurth.
Baker's time away from politics was very brief, however. In August 1975, he was appointed Undersecretary of Commerce by President Gerald Ford, succeeding John K. Tabor. He served until May 1976, and was succeeded by Edward O. Vetter. Baker resigned to serve as campaign manager of Ford's unsuccessful 1976 election campaign. In 1978, with George H. W. Bush as his campaign manager, Baker ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General of Texas, losing to future Texas governor Mark White.
In 1981, Baker was named White House Chief of Staff by President Ronald Reagan, in spite of the fact that Baker managed the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford in 1976 and of George Bush in 1980 opposing Reagan. He served in that capacity until 1985. Baker is considered to have had a high degree of influence over the first Reagan Administration, particularly in domestic policy.
In 1982, conservative activists Howard Phillips, founder of The Conservative Caucus, and Clymer Wright of Houston joined in an unsuccessful effort to convince Reagan to dismiss Baker as Chief of Staff. They claimed that Baker, a former Democrat and a Bush political intimate, was undermining conservative initiatives in the administration. Reagan rejected the Phillips-Wright request, but in 1985, he named Baker as United States Secretary of the Treasury, in a job-swap with then Secretary Donald T. Regan, a former Merrill Lynch officer who became Chief of Staff. Reagan rebuked Phillips and Wright for having waged a "campaign of sabotage" against Baker.
Baker managed Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign in which Reagan polled a record 525 electoral votes total (of 538 possible), and received 58.8 percent of the popular vote to Walter Mondale's 40.6 percent.
While serving as Treasury Secretary, Baker organized the Plaza Accord of September 1985 and the Baker Plan to target international debt. He had Richard Darman of Massachusetts as his Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Darman would continue in the next administration as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
During the Reagan Administration, Baker also served on the Economic Policy Council, where he played an instrumental role in achieving the passage of the administration's tax and budget reform package in 1981. He also played a role in the development of the Silver Eagle and the Gold Eagle, which both were released in 1986.
Baker also served on Reagan's National Security Council, and remained Treasury Secretary until 1988, during which time he also served as campaign chairman for George H. W. Bush's successful presidential bid.
President George H.W. Bush appointed Baker Secretary of State in 1989. Baker served in this role through 1992. From 1992 to 1993, he served as Bush's White House Chief of Staff, the same position that he had held from 1981 to 1985 during the first Reagan Administration.
On January 9, 1991, during the Geneva Peace Conference with Tariq Aziz in Geneva, Baker declared that "If there is any user of (chemical or biological weapons), our objectives won't just be the liberation of Kuwait, but the elimination of the current Iraqi regime...." Baker later acknowledged that the intent of this statement was to threaten a retaliatory nuclear strike on Iraq, and the Iraqis received his message. Baker helped to construct the 34-nation alliance that fought alongside the United States in the Gulf War.
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991.
Baker blocked the recognition of Palestine by threatening to cut funding to agencies in the United Nations. As far back as 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) issued a "declaration of statehood” and changed the name of its observer delegation to the United Nations from the PLO to Palestine.
Baker warned publicly, "I will recommend to the President that the United States make no further contributions, voluntary or assessed, to any international organization which makes any changes in the PLO's status as an observer organization."
|Booknotes interview with Baker on The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992, December 3, 1995, C-SPAN|
Also in 1993, the Enron Corporation hired Baker as a consultant within a month of his departure from the White House, and Enron said that Baker would have an opportunity to invest in any projects he developed.
In March 1997, Baker became the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Western Sahara. In June 2004 he resigned from this position, frustrated over the lack of progress in reaching a complete settlement acceptable to both the government of Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front. He left behind the Baker II plan, accepted as a suitable basis of negotiations by the Polisario and unanimously endorsed by the Security Council, but rejected by Morocco.
In addition to the numerous recognitions received by Baker, he was presented with the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for public service on September 13, 2000 in Washington, D.C..
In 2000, Baker served as chief legal adviser for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election campaign and oversaw the Florida recount. The 2008 film Recount covers the days following the controversial election. During the making of the film Baker was interviewed. Baker was portrayed in the film by British actor Tom Wilkinson.
On September 11, 2001, Baker watched television coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington DC, where Baker and representatives of Osama bin Laden's family were among those attending the annual conference for the Carlyle Group. Baker is Senior Counselor for the Carlyle Group, and the bin Ladens are among its major investors.[dubious ]
State of Denial, a book by investigative reporter Bob Woodward, says that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card urged President Bush to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with Baker following the 2004 election. However, another G. H. W. Bush Administration veteran, Robert Gates, was appointed instead, and only after the 2006 elections. Baker was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.
In December 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Baker as his special envoy to ask various foreign creditor nations to forgive or restructure $100 billion in international debts owed by the Iraq government which had been incurred during the tenure of Saddam Hussein. On March 15, 2006, Congress announced the formation of the Iraq Study Group, a high-level panel of prominent former officials charged by members of Congress with taking a fresh look at America's policy on Iraq. Baker was the Republican Co-Chairman along with Democratic Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, to advise Congress on Iraq. Baker also advised George W. Bush on Iraq.
The Iraq Study Group examined a number of ideas, including one that would create a new power-sharing arrangement in Iraq that would give more autonomy to regional factions. On October 9, 2006, the Washington Post quoted co-chairman Baker as saying "our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run'".
James Baker serves as an Honorary Co-Chair for the World Justice Project. The World Justice Project works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the Rule of Law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.
Baker is a leader of the Climate Leadership Council, along with Henry Paulson and George P. Shultz. In 2017, Baker was a member of a small group of "Republican elder statesmen" proposing that conservatives embrace carbon taxes, with all revenue rebated with lump-sum dividends, as a policy to deal with global climate change. The group also included Martin S. Feldstein, N. Gregory Mankiw, Henry M. Paulson Jr., and George P. Shultz,.
Baker met his first wife, the former Mary Stuart McHenry, of Dayton, Ohio while on spring break in Bermuda with the Princeton University rugby team. They married in 1953. Together they had four sons. Mary Stuart Baker (Mary Stuart was her full first name) died of breast cancer in February 1970.
In 1973, Baker and Susan Garrett Winston, a widow and a close friend of Mary Stuart, were married. Winston had two sons and a daughter with her late husband. She and Baker welcomed their daughter Mary Bonner Baker born in 1977.
On June 15, 2002, Virginia Graeme Baker, the seven-year-old granddaughter of Baker, daughter of Nancy and James Baker IV, was the victim of lethal suction-pump entrapment in an in-ground spa. To promote greater safety in pools and spas, Nancy Baker gave testimony to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and James Baker helped form an advocacy group, which led to the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool And Spa Safety Act (15 USC 8001).
The group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Henry M. Paulson Jr., a former secretary of the Treasury, says that taxing carbon pollution produced by burning fossil fuels is “a conservative climate solution” based on free-market principles.
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