Pete McCloskey, Republican congressman who called for Nixon’s resignation, dead at 96

Pete McCloskey

Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey, a Republican congressman from California who called for President Richard Nixon’s resignation and launched a longshot bid for president in 1972 to unseat him, died Wednesday. He was 96.

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McCloskey died at his home in Winters, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. His wife, Helen Hooper McCloskey, said the cause of death was heart and kidney failure.

McCloskey, a decorated Marine who led six bayonet charges during the Korean War, rose to the rank of colonel and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, according to the newspaper.

However, McCloskey was more of an advocate for peace. He co-chaired the first Earth Day in 1970 and helped write the federal Endangered Species Act, the Chronicle reported.

The liberal Republican represented an area south of San Francisco from late 1967 — when he defeated Shirley Temple Black in a special election — to early 1983, The New York Times reported. He favored environmental causes and believed the Republican party had swung too far to the right.

With eight other members of Congress, McCloskey supported the national student antiwar protest of October 1969, according to The Washington Post. He helped draft a motion to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 and was a driving force in House efforts to withdraw U.S. forces from Southeast Asia.

In July 1971, McCloskey decided to challenge Nixon for the Republican nomination, the Times reported.

“To talk, as the president does, of winding down the war while he is expanding the use of air power is a deliberate deception,” McCloskey said at the time. “I’ll probably get licked, but I can’t keep quiet.”

McCloskey won only 20% in the New Hampshire primary in early 1972 and dropped out of the race, according to the newspaper. Nixon wound up getting reelected in a landslide.

When Nixon became embroiled in the Watergate scandal, McCloskey was the first House member to call for the president’s impeachment, the Times reported.

McCloskey was born on Sept. 29, 1927, according to the Chronicle. He attended Stanford where he played varsity baseball and graduated in 1950.

He then attended Stanford’s law school, where he was in the same class as future Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist, the newspaper reported. His law school career was interrupted when he was called to active duty with the Marines, but he returned to graduate in 1953.

After the Korean conflict, McCloskey worked as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County and in 1955 opened a private law practice in Palo Alto, California, according to the Chronicle.

In 1967 he stunned Black, the former child movie actress, in a special election to complete the term of Rep. Arthur Younger, who died in June 1967.

“Pete’s defeat of Shirley was a stunner. She was a big star and he was a little-known war hero,” said Tom Brokaw, the television news anchor who had covered the campaign, according to the Chronicle.

McCloskey was sued for libel in 1987 by television evangelist Pat Robertson, who was campaigning for the 1988 presidential nomination, the Times reported. Robertson had claimed that he was a combat Marine during the Korean War, but McCloskey said the pair had gone overseas on the same troop ship and told reporters that the future evangelist was a “liquor officer” who bragged that he would never see combat because his father was U.S. Sen. A. Willis Robertson, according to the Chronicle.

A judge tossed out the lawsuit granted McCloskey attorney’s fees, the newspaper reported.

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