Thomas S. Foley, a courtly congressman from Washington state who as speaker of the House sought to still the chamber's rising tide of partisan combat before it swept the Democratic majority, and Foley himself, out of office in 1994, died Friday at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 84.
His wife, Heather, said that the cause was complications of strokes.
In a statement, President Barack Obama called Speaker Foley "a legend of the United States Congress" whose "straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties."
He had been the House majority leader when he took the speaker's chair on June 6, 1989. His rise came in the wake of a bitter fight led by Rep. Newt Ging-rich, a Republican from Georgia, to oust Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat from Texas, over allegations of ethics violations; one was that he had improperly accepted gifts from a Fort Worth developer. Wright resigned before an ethics inquiry was completed.
Speaker Foley promised to treat "each and every member" fairly, regardless of party, and by most estimations he lived up to that promise to a degree unmatched by his successors.
But by 1994 Republicans had hardened, painting the Democratic-controlled House as out of touch and corrupt.
Their strategy worked. That year, Republicans won their first majority in the House in 40 years, and Speaker Foley became the first speaker since the Civil War to be defeated for re-election in his own district. (Speaker Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania lost his seat in 1862.)
Speaker Foley's 51/2 years as speaker were marked by a successful effort to force President George H.W. Bush to accept tax increases as part of a 1990 deficit-reduction deal, and by unsuccessful opposition to the president's plans to invade Iraq in 1991.
When Bush was succeeded by Bill Clinton, a Democrat, Speaker Foley played a central role in winning passage of Clinton's 1993 budget plan, which also included tax increases. The measure passed the House, 218-216, without a single Republican vote.
And despite a long history of opposing gun control measures, Speaker Foley helped win House passage of a 1994 ban on assault weapons, which played a major role in the Republican victory that fall. He had been shaken when a troubled Air Force enlisted man went on a shooting rampage at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash., killing five people and wounding 22.
Speaker Foley also bucked a majority of House Democrats in supporting Clinton's effort to win ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.