Robert S. Strauss

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Robert S. Strauss
United States Ambassador to Russia
In office
December 26, 1991 – November 19, 1992
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Himself as Ambassador to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by Thomas Pickering
United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
In office
August 2, 1991 – December 26, 1991
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Jack Matlock
Succeeded by Himself as Ambassador to Russia
Special Envoy for the Middle East
In office
May 4, 1979 – November 25, 1979
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Sol Linowitz
6th United States Trade Representative
In office
March 29, 1977 – August 17, 1979
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Frederick Dent
Succeeded by Reubin Askew
Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee
In office
December 9, 1972 – January 21, 1977
Preceded by Jean Westwood
Succeeded by Kenneth Curtis
Personal details
Born Robert Schwarz Strauss
(1918-10-19)October 19, 1918
Lockhart, Texas, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Washington, D.C, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Helen Jacobs (3 children)[1]
Relations Annette Strauss (sister-in-law)
Alma mater University of Texas at Austin
Religion Judaism[2]

Robert Schwarz Strauss (October 19, 1918 – March 19, 2014) was a figure in American politics and diplomacy whose service dates back to future president Lyndon Johnson’s first congressional campaign in 1937. By the 1950s, he was associated in Texas politics with the conservative faction of the Democratic Party led by Johnson and John Connally. He served as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee between 1972 and 1977 and served under President Jimmy Carter as the U.S. Trade Representative and special envoy to the Middle East. Strauss was selected by President George H. W. Bush to be the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1991 and after the USSR's collapse, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1991 until 1992. Strauss had advised and represented U.S. presidents over three administrations and for both major U.S. political parties.

An accomplished lawyer, Strauss founded the law firm now known as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in 1945, which had grown to be one of the largest in the world with offices in 15 cities and employing over 900 lawyers and professionals worldwide.[3] His business activities included serving on the Texas Banking Commission and as Chairman of the U.S.-Russia Business Council. Strauss was inducted into the Academy of Achievement in 2003 and was recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, on January 16, 1981. He was a trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and The Forum for International Policy, and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission.

Strauss had occupied academic chairs and lecture positions, including one as the Lloyd Bentsen Chair at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas. He was also the namesake of The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas. Additionally, Strauss had an interest in biomedical issues and had endowed two chairs at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas: the Helen and Robert S. Strauss Professorship in Pediatric Neurology and the Helen and Robert S. Strauss Professorship in Urology.


Strauss was born in Lockhart, south of the capital city of Austin, Texas. He was the son of Edith Violet (née Schwarz) and Charles H. Strauss.[4] His parents were Jewish immigrants from Germany.[5][6] When he was a year old, his family moved to the small town of Hamlin, north of Abilene, and later to the slightly larger nearby town of Stamford. Strauss's father opened a small general store in Stamford.

In his sophomore year at The University of Texas at Austin Strauss campaigned for a state assembly candidate and was given a part-time job as a Committee Clerk in the Texas State Legislature. In 1937, while still an undergraduate, he volunteered for Lyndon Johnson's first congressional campaign. Strauss was also a member of the Texas Cowboys, an honorary service organization at UT. In law school at the University of Texas, he met another student who would have a large impact on his career, John B. Connally. After completing his law degree, Strauss was hired as a special agent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and served in the FBI throughout World War II. At the end of the war, he settled in Dallas, where he and a fellow FBI agent, Richard A. Gump, founded their own law firm. This firm, originally known as Gump and Strauss, would eventually grow into the international law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. The many partners over the years included the high profile defense attorney, William G. Hundley.

Texas political activity

Still interested in a political career, Strauss and his wife, Helen Jacobs, found a more comfortable niche participating in numerous charities and community activities, and Strauss became a prodigious fundraiser for the Democratic Party. By the 1950s, Strauss's law school friend, John Connally, was serving on the staff of Lyndon Johnson, who soon became Senate Majority Leader.

When John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were elected President and Vice President in 1960, Connally, a former naval officer, was appointed Secretary of the Navy. Within a year, at Strauss's urging, Connally returned to Texas to run for governor. At the time, the Republican Party had no significant presence in Texas, but Connally nevertheless faced stiff opposition in the Democratic primary. Strauss's skill as a campaign adviser and fund-raiser was a crucial factor in Connally's narrow victory. Having secured the Democratic nomination, Connally easily won the general election. Connally's election finally brought Strauss the access to the Dallas business establishment he had long sought. Governor Connally appointed Strauss to the Texas Banking Commission, and Strauss's law firm grew and prospered.

The world of Texas politics was turned upside down by the events of November 1963. Governor Connally and his wife Nellie were riding in the limousine with President Kennedy in Dallas when the President was fatally shot. Governor Connally was severely wounded by the assassin's bullets, but soon recovered. Connally and Strauss's mentor and patron, Lyndon Johnson, was now President of the United States. Although Strauss did not regard himself as part of the President's inner circle of political advisers, Connally certainly was, and Robert Strauss's connection to Connally brought him closer to the President.

In Texas, Governor Connally was finding himself at odds with the more liberal wing of his own party, while on the national stage, Democrats were becoming bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. President Johnson solicited Strauss's advice on the issue. Strauss feared that continued involvement in the war was a mistake that was endangering Johnson's presidency, but he felt too intimidated by the imposing Johnson to share his true feelings. Strauss immediately regretted withholding his true opinion from the President; he resolved that if any President ever sought his advice again, he would tell him the truth, no matter what the President wanted to hear.

National political activity

The 1968 presidential election brought the Republican Richard Nixon to power and left the Democratic Party deeply divided. Strauss had long expected that his friend John Connally would one day run for president, and hoped that he would seek the Democratic nomination in the next election. Strauss opened a Washington office for his law firm and became Treasurer of the Democratic Party in 1971, but the same year, Connally accepted an invitation from President Nixon to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. In 1972, the Democrats nominated George McGovern, while Connally supported Nixon. McGovern and the Democrats suffered a crushing defeat, losing in 49 of the 50 states.

In the wake of this defeat, Strauss was elected Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Although emboldened by their success in the Congressional elections of 1974, the Democrats had no obvious front-runner for the presidential nomination in 1976. While remaining studiously neutral in the struggle for the nomination, Strauss carefully rebuilt the party's finances and planned a tightly disciplined national convention in New York City to erase memories of the chaotic gatherings of 1968 and 1972. By the time the Democrats met at Madison Square Garden, the nomination had been secured by an unexpected candidate, former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter.

Strauss expertly managed the convention. At the 1972 convention, party infighting had delayed candidate McGovern's acceptance speech until late at night, when the television audience had gone to sleep. Strauss made sure that Carter's acceptance speech ran in prime time, and the convention ended with a memorable tableau: the leaders of the party's opposing wings, conservative George Wallace and liberal George McGovern, flanking candidate Carter with clasped hands upraised. The Democrats entered the fall campaign united for the first time in years. Credit for this accomplishment was awarded to the Party's Chairman, Strauss, and candidate Carter quickly asked Strauss to chair his election campaign as well. The national election was closely contested, but Carter emerged victorious. Strauss was acclaimed as a political kingmaker.

Service under President Carter

After ascending to the presidency in 1977, President Carter named Strauss as U.S. Trade Representative. The position enjoyed cabinet level status, while allowing Strauss to apply his considerable negotiating skills to America's troubled relations with its trading partners. As Trade Representative, Strauss successfully completed the Tokyo Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, and secured the agreement's ratification by the United States Congress in the Trade Act of 1979. From this success, President Carter asked Strauss to undertake an even more challenging task, as his Personal Representative to the Middle East. Carter's previous efforts had already resulted in a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and the President hoped Strauss would be able to build on this success. The handshake of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat on the White House lawn was a high point of the Carter presidency, but dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. Revolution in Iran led to the seizure of American diplomats as hostages, a crisis that dominated the last year of Carter's term.

In 1980, Strauss's old friend John Connally finally made a run for the presidency. He entered the Republican primaries as a hard-core conservative, but found himself running at the back of the pack while Ronald Reagan emerged as the front-runner. Strauss chaired President Carter's campaign committee once again in 1980, but President Carter did not win re-election. Before leaving office, President Carter awarded Robert Strauss the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Strauss returned to his law firm's thriving Washington office. His experience as Trade Representative made him a sought after expert on international trade matters.

Service under President Reagan

Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, was to face difficulties of his own. His efforts to resolve another hostage situation led to the Iran-Contra affair. Many of the president's supporters believed that the aggressive management style of his Chief of Staff, Donald Regan, was making matters worse, but the President remained loyal to Regan and would not consider replacing him. Presidential adviser, Michael Deaver, and First Lady Nancy Reagan made a discreet approach to an experienced outsider they believed might be able to persuade the President, Strauss. Others had told the President what he wanted to hear, that the controversy would blow over and that Donald Regan was more useful than not. Strauss, who had closely observed the workings of two other presidential administrations, told the President the painful truth, that Donald Regan had become a liability and that the White House needed a Chief of Staff who could mend fences, especially with Congress. Among others, Strauss recommended former Senator Howard Baker, a Republican respected on both sides of the aisle for his competence and integrity. Reagan was visibly annoyed with Strauss's suggestions, but a few days later, Donald Regan submitted his resignation, and the President appointed Howard Baker to replace him. Baker skillfully managed the President's recovery from the controversy, and President Reagan left office with his popularity restored.

Strauss was then appointed as the co-chairman ( along with ex-Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis) of the National Economic Commission. This bi-partisan commission was given the task to solve the federal budget deficit that had grown to over $4 trillion. The commission lasted from 1988 to 1989, and ended in the first term of President George H. W. Bush.

Service under President George H.W. Bush

Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, won election to succeed him. The first President Bush also found need for the counsel of Strauss. In the Soviet Union, President Mikhail Gorbachev was attempting to reform the communist system and forge a new relationship with the United States. His efforts faced opposition from hard-liners within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, while newly elected leaders in the Union's constituent republics agitated for more and more autonomy. President Bush appointed Strauss to serve as Ambassador to the Soviet Union, in hopes that Strauss's proven skills as a negotiator would ease the transition to a new era. The Soviet Union was also starting to transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, making it important to show that party membership should no longer be a requirement for political office and that political opposition should no longer be considered treasonous but rather, to use a British term, "the loyal opposition", making Bush's selection of one of his own opponents especially significant. It was reported that Bush told Strauss that Bush had selected Strauss because Strauss said that he had voted against Bush and intended to do so again.[7]

In August 1991, only weeks after a state visit by President Bush, reactionary members of the Communist Party and a few high-ranking officers of the military and KGB attempted to seize power and restore the old dictatorship. The coup collapsed, but Gorbachev's leadership had been fatally injured. Strauss presented his credentials to President Gorbachev only hours after Gorbachev resigned his post as Chairman of the Communist Party. While Strauss served in Moscow, the first elected President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, emerged as the most powerful figure in the fragile union. With the agreement of the elected presidents of the other constituent republics, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved and replaced by a loosely associated Commonwealth of Independent States.

In December, Gorbachev resigned the presidency of a super-state that had ceased to exist. Strauss was quickly re-appointed as Ambassador to the largest of the Soviet Union's successor states, the Russian Federation. With Strauss's assistance, President Yeltsin quickly established amicable relations with the United States. Strauss resigned this post shortly after the 1992 presidential election in the United States and returned once again to private law practice with Akin Gump.

Later life and death

Apart from his law practice and government service, Robert Strauss had long been a popular public speaker and lecturer, and had written on law, business and public affairs for professional journals, magazines and newspapers across the United States and abroad. He had also served on the boards of major corporations including Xerox and the Archer Daniels Midland Company until his death. In the academic world, he had occupied the Lloyd Bentsen Chair at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, where he lectured to students of law, business and public affairs. In his later years, Strauss served as Chairman of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

His sister-in-law, Annette Strauss, served as mayor of Dallas from 1987 to 1991.

On March 19, 2014, Strauss died of natural causes at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 95 years old.[8][9][9]

See also


  2. "NewsBank for Statesman |". Retrieved 2014-03-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP- about_glance Archived June 7, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Robert Schwarz StraussBy WARREN WEAVER Jr. (1976-07-12). "Ebullient Democratic Chairman - Article -". Retrieved 2014-03-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "JIMMY CARTER'S AMBASSADOR to almost anything". 1978-07-18. Retrieved 2014-03-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Political Samesmanship, The Washington Post, October 27, 1991
  8. "Law office: Former Democratic Party Chairman Robert Strauss has died". Retrieved 2014-03-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Carl P. Leubsdorf (1918-10-18). "Dallas' Bob Strauss, former Democratic Party chairman, dies at 95 | Dallas Morning News". Retrieved 2014-03-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Jean Westwood
Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee
Succeeded by
Kenneth Curtis
Political offices
Preceded by
Frederick Dent
United States Trade Representative
Succeeded by
Reubin Askew
Diplomatic posts
New office Special Envoy for the Middle East
Succeeded by
Sol Linowitz
Preceded by
Jack Matlock
United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
Position abolished
New office United States Ambassador to Russia
Succeeded by
Thomas Pickering