Rep. Walter Jones, N.C. Republican and Iraq war critic, dies at 76

Rep. Walter Jones Jr., a 13-term Republican from eastern North Carolina whose about-face on the Iraq War came to define his congressional service, died Sunday on his 76th birthday, his congressional office confirmed.

No cause of death was announced. Jones entered hospice care last month as his health sharply declined after he suffered complications from a broken hip he sustained in a fall, and he had been on leave since then.

When he was re-elected to a 13th term in November, Jones was the only House Republican nationwide to run unopposed.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, announced Jones' death on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.

Jones wasn't a member of the Freedom Caucus, but he supported many of its positions in his 24 years serving the 3rd District of North Carolina.

He was a deeply Christian orthodox conservative of the pre-Donald Trump era, strongly supporting the military and just as strongly opposing taxes, same-sex marriage and abortion.

Jones ignored his party's leaders in 2012 when he voted against extending tax increases enacted during the administration of Republican President George W. Bush (a vote that cost him his seat on the Financial Services Committee), and he was the only House Republican to vote against the Republican tax bill in 2017 — he said the measure would add too much to the national deficit.

Related: Members of the Freedom Caucus:

29 PHOTOS
Members of the Freedom Caucus
See Gallery
Members of the Freedom Caucus
UNITED STATES - MARCH 22: Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, walks through Statuary Hall in the Capitol on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 27: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 31: Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 24: From left, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., and Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting to organize for the 115th Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 8: Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., talks with the media after a meeting of House Republicans in the Capitol, June 8, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., attends a news conference in the Capitol where he and others primarily expressed support for victims of the Oklahoma tornado. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 8: Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., sheds his coat to reveal his University of Alabama shirt as he descends the House steps following final votes of the week on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama are set to face off on Monday night for the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, USA - JANUARY 6: Congressman Ken Buck waits in the House Chambers for a joint session of Congress to begin where all the Electoral College votes from the States will be delivered and verified at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA on January 6, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 2: Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, participates in the House Financial Services Committee meeting to organize for the 115th Congress on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks as Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida, looks on during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The hearing is part of some Republican lawmakers' push to impeach International Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen for allegedly failing to cooperate with an investigation after the IRS reportedly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
UNITED STATES - MAY 17: Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tenn., talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol, May 17, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during the South Carolina Freedom Summit hosted by Citizens United and Congressman Jeff Duncan in Greenville, South Carolina, U.S., on Saturday, May 9, 2015. The Freedom Summit brings grassroots activists from across South Carolina and the surrounding area to hear from conservative leaders and presidential hopefuls. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting with GOP nominee for Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaks at a news conference to discuss legislation to revoke comedian Bill CosbyÃs Presidental Medal Of Freedom at the Cannon House Office Building on January 7, 2016 in Washington DC. Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, was awarded his Medal of Freedom in 2002 by President George W. Bush. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 9: Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., attends a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup in Rayburn Building regarding the bill to repeal and replace the the Affordable Care Act, March 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: Doctor and Congressman Andy Harris (D-MD) works with staff on an amendment to overturn the city's marijuana decriminalization law, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Thursday, July 10, 2014. Rep. Harris represents Maryland's 1st Congressional District of Maryland. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, questions Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney general, not pictured, during a House Judiciary Committee in Washington. D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Lynch rejected Republican demands to discuss her decision against prosecuting Hillary Clinton before a House panel whose chairman said the former secretary of state's careless handling of official communications may have jeopardized U.S. national security. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting with GOP nominee for Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 9: Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., (not pictured) hold a news conference on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, outside of the Capitol to de-authorize use of Capitol office space and staff provided to the recent ex-Speaker of the House. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 11: Alex Mooney, Republican congressional candidate from West Virginia, is interviewed by Roll Call. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Gary Palmer, a Republican from Alabama, listens during a House Budget Committee markup hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 16, 2017. While the GOP bill, called the American Health Care Act, was approved by a third committee in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the 19-17 vote was the first time Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats against the bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) speaks during an event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian to challenge the sale of American Indian artifacts and remains in France May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. In an international battle stretching from Native American lands in the American West to the auction houses of Paris, two tribes on May 24, renewed a years-long campaign to prevent the sale of sacred objects. The Acoma Pueblo Nation located in New Mexico and The Hoopa Valley Tribal Nation of California have announced their opposition to a scheduled sale next week of close to 500 artifacts at Paris' EVE auction house. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 07: Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., of PA-04 district, delivers an address to constituents during a town hall meeting at the Hamilton Health Center in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 29: Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, arrives for the House Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of the United States Department of Homeland Security' on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 24: Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., leaves the Capitol Hill Club after a meeting of the House Republican Conference, May 24, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, listens during a House Budget Committee markup hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 16, 2017. While the GOP bill, called the American Health Care Act, was approved by a third committee in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the 19-17 vote was the first time Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats against the bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - APRIL 20: Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., attends a news conference to announce 'The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act,' at the Senate Swamp on the East Front of the Capitol, April 20, 2016. The event featured testimony from Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor of sex-trafficking. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, participates in a discussion with reporters in Rayburn, titled 'Conversations with Conservatives, ' at which he and others fielded questions on illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border and other issues, July 15, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 30: Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

He sponsored or co-sponsored six measures in the House to restrict funding for and access to abortions, and he once called same-sex marriage "an assault on the Judeo-Christian values upon which this country was founded."

Jones was also a fierce protector of the numerous military installations in his district, which is home to Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and New River Marine Corps Air Station.

But it was his stark reversal of his support for Bush's war in Iraq that Jones was most famous for, a turnabout that marked the beginning of a period increasingly outside the House Republican mainstream.

Jones initially supported the war in 2002 — even going so far as to have spearheaded the effort to persuade the House cafeterias to rename french fries as "Freedom Fries" to protest France's opposition to the U.S.-led war.

"This is a real tribute," he said at the time. "Whenever anyone orders Freedom Fries, I hope they will think about our men and women who are serving in this great nation."

But he soon regretted the vote, he told The Associated Press in 2017. After he attended funeral services for Marine Sgt. Michael Bitz in 2003, he wrote an apologetic letter to Bitz's family. And he continued writing such letters — more than 11,000 to relatives of dead U.S. service members in the following years.

When Jones wrote that first letter, "there were a lot of emotions going through my mind, and I still carry today the pain of voting for an unnecessary war," he told The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, in November 2017.

Jones told the newspaper that he also began regularly visiting wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland "to be reminded that war is hell — people die; people get wounded."

Jones was a conservative Democrat when he first ran to succeed his father representing the 3rd District in 1992. He lost, and in 1994, he joined the Republican Party and was elected as part of the so-called Republican Revolution led by Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

But Jones' opposition to the war after 2003 highlighted his growing estrangement from some elements of his party. Jones voted with the party 81 percent of the time over his full congressional career — but only about 60 percent of the time after Trump was sworn in in January 2017.

He called on Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., then the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to step aside from the committee's investigation of alleged Russian influence in the 2016 election, arguing that Nunes was too closely tied to Trump.

And he consistently opposed U.S. military actions overseas since Trump took office, sharply criticizing U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and Syria.

Colleagues remembered Jones on Sunday as a man of principle who stood up for his beliefs even when they were unpopular.

"He was a public servant who was true to his convictions and who will be missed," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said: "He always did what he felt was right for his constituents, his district, and his country, and it was no wonder why he was so widely admired and trusted."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.