FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Rep. Alcee Hastings, the fiercely liberal longtime Florida congressman who was dogged throughout his tenure by an impeachment that ended his fast-rising judicial career, died Tuesday. He was 84.
Hastings’ death was confirmed by his chief of staff, Lale M. Morrison. Hastings, a Democrat from the Fort Lauderdale area, announced two years ago that he had pancreatic cancer.
Hastings was known as an advocate for minorities, a defender of Israel and a voice for gays, immigrants, women and the elderly. He held senior posts on the House Rules Committee and the Helsinki Commission, which works with other countries on a variety of multinational issues.
President Joe Biden called Hastings “a trailblazing lawyer” whom he admired for his “singular sense of humor, and for always speaking the truth bluntly and without reservation.”
“Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans,” Biden said in his statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Hastings’ “leadership and friendship will be missed by his many friends in Congress.”
But throughout his career, Hastings’ impeachment remained a nagging footnote. It was repeatedly invoked in news accounts and seen as derailing his ambitions for a greater leadership role.
“That seems to be the only thing of significance to people who write,” Hastings told The Associated Press in 2013, predicting that the impeachment would be in the lead paragraph of his obituary.
Despite his seniority, Hastings was passed over for chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006. But as he did time and again throughout his life, he insisted his fight wasn’t over and that he wouldn’t be discouraged.
“Sorry, haters,” he said when not chosen for the intelligence posting, “God is not finished with me yet.”
Under Florida law, Gov. Ron DeSantis will call a special election in the coming months to fill the vacancy. Hastings’ district is overwhelmingly Democratic — he received 80% of the vote in November.
Hastings’ death, meanwhile, lowers the Democrats’ majority to a scant 218-211 in the House. Their narrow margin is forcing the party to muster nearly unanimous votes to push legislation through the chamber, and is bolstering Republican hopes for capturing House control in the 2022 elections.
There are six vacancies – four from seats that were held by Democrats, two by Republicans.
The seat won by Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., who died from COVID-19 before being sworn into office, will go to his widow, Julia Letlow, who won a special election. The rest are expected to be retained by the same parties that had held them.
Born Sept. 5, 1936, in Altamonte Springs, Florida, a largely black Orlando suburb, Hastings was the son of a maid and a butler. He attended Fisk University and Florida A&M. After earning his law degree he went into private practice, frequently taking civil rights cases pro bono.