Marco Garcia / AP
Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 | 3:48 p.m.
Sen. Harry Reid looked obviously shaken as he eulogized his longtime colleague and friend Dan Inouye, Hawaii’s senior senator, who died of reported respiratory complications Monday afternoon. He was 88.
“He is certainly one of the giants of the Senate,” Reid said in an impromptu speech that was frequently punctuated by the senator exhaling long, deep breaths. “We will all miss him, and that’s a gross understatement. I wish I were capable of saying more. But that’s all I can say.”
Inouye was the second-longest-serving U.S. senator in history, chairman of its powerful Appropriations Committee and also was president pro tempore of the Senate, which put him third in line to succeed the president, after Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. Inouye was also the only member of Congress to have been part of his state’s original congressional delegation and still hold office, as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out Monday afternoon.
Inouye came to Washington as Hawaii’s first elected congressional representative, serving in Hawaii’s then at-large House seat from its inception in 1959 until he was elected to the Senate in 1970. In that time, he had a chance to mentor several of his colleagues, including Reid.
“He believed in me more than I believed in myself, many, many years ago...he always talked about my leading the Senate,” Reid said. “His commitment to our nation will never be surpassed. His service in the Senate will be with the greats of this body.”
Before Inouye’s career in government, he was a decorated war veteran, rising to the rank of second lieutenant during World War II and receiving the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Honor for his service. After one particularly gruesome fight in Italy in 1945, Inouye was severely injured by a grenade that partially tore off his right arm. As the story goes, an undeterred Inouye used his left hand to grab a grenade he had been clutching in his right hand and throw it at the Nazi soldier who had attacked him. Inouye’s arm was later amputated.
His departure will leave a hole in the heart of his colleagues, but it also leaves a hole in the Senate.
Until today, Hawaii had the most seniority of any state’s Senate delegation. Inouye’s death comes on top of Sen. Daniel Akaka’s retirement, scheduled to commence at the end of the congressional session. Hawaii then will have the youngest delegation in the body.
Inouye’s death also may cause a shakeup in committee assignments, which were just announced earlier this month. Inouye was chairman of Senate Appropriations, arguably the most powerful and important committee in the body. But the next Democrats in line to take over the helm already have chairmanships elsewhere: Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the new president pro tempore, heads up the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Next in line are Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who has no committee chairmanships, Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who is also retiring, and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a close Reid ally who just finished orchestrating the Senate Democrats’ better-than-expected gains in the 2012 elections.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat and recent veteran of the House of Representatives, will select Inouye’s successor until there is a special election.
Two years ago, Inouye had told a local reporter he intended to run again, “God willing,” when his present term expired in 2016. He would have been 92.