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Leahy, who is also next in line to be chairman of Appropriations, already had been assuming additional work this week as the floor manager of a supplemental disaster aid bill. “He was a great friend. It’s broken me up,” Leahy said, when leaving the Senate on Monday night after hearing the news.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., another longtime appropriator, highlighted the fact that Inouye often let others take the spotlight.
“An iconic political figure of his beloved Hawaii, and the only original member of a congressional delegation still serving in Congress, he was a man who had every reason to call attention to himself but who never did,” McConnell said. “He was the kind of man, in short, that America has always been grateful to have, especially in her darkest hours: men who lead by example and who expect nothing in return.”
Inouye was first elected in 1959 as the new state’s first House member, and he moved to the Senate in 1962. He was the second-longest-serving senator in history.
Inouye became Appropriations chairman in 2009, after Senate Democratic leaders moved to push out an ailing Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. But Inouye said he only took the job after Byrd willingly relinquished the gavel, indicating he was a believer in the Senate’s long history of honoring seniority.
“I recall over the many years that I served on this committee, there were two senators who chaired this committee while they were literally on their deathbed,” Inouye told CQ Roll Call in 2009.
Despite his strong belief in the traditions of the Senate and the prerogatives of the legislative branch, Inouye reluctantly agreed to restrict earmarks in appropriations bills in recent years. He also gave a speech in September in which he lamented the increased use of the filibuster, saying, “At some point, this body needs to alter either its behavior or its rules” — a sign that he was changing his stance on whether to alter the rules governing legislative blockades.
On Dec. 6, Inouye was hospitalized at The George Washington University hospital before being transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for treatment for a respiratory condition.
Spokesman Peter Boylan said in a statement that Inouye succumbed to complications from those conditions at 5:01 p.m. Monday. Boylan reported that his last word was “Aloha.”