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His death, at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in suburban Maryland, was announced on the Senate floor by Majority Leader Harry Reid, who hailed Inouye as one of the “greats of this body.”
President Barack Obama saluted Inouye as a “true American hero” for his wartime service and his work on Capitol Hill to “strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve.”
Under Hawaii law, Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie will name a successor to fill Inouye’s seat until a new senator is picked in the 2014 general election.
Because Abercrombie is expected to name a fellow Democrat, Inouye’s death is unlikely to change the balance of power in the 100-member Senate, where Democrats were expected to maintain a 55-45 majority over Republicans.
First elected to Congress as Hawaii’s first full-fledged member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Inouye took office on Aug. 21, 1959, the date Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state. He went on to win election to the U.S. Senate in 1962.
After nine consecutive Senate terms, Inouye was the only member of the state’s original congressional delegation still serving on Capitol Hill.
He was also the second longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate after the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and became the most senior member when Byrd died in 2010.
Inouye thus assumed the largely ceremonial post of president pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in line to succeed to the U.S. presidency after the vice president and speaker of the House.
Inouye began his public service at age 17, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after the 1941 Japanese attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, during which he had served as a U.S. medical volunteer.