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Influential Hawaiian senator Daniel Inouye dies (+video)

Daniel Inouye, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the longest-serving senator, and a World War II hero, died Monday after a brief hospitalization. Inouye was a senator for Hawaii since 1963.

By Andrew TaylorAssociated Press / December 17, 2012

In this Feb. 11, 2009 file photo, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, (c.), joins other lawmakers in announcing agreement on the $789 billion economic stimulus measure, at the Capitol in Washington, in 2009. Inouye, the influential Democrat who broke racial barriers on Capitol Hill and played key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, died of respiratory complications, Monday, according to his office. He was 88.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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Washington

Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the influential Democrat who broke racial barriers on Capitol Hill and played key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, died Monday. He was 88.

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Inouye, a senator since January 1963, was currently the longest serving senator and was president pro tempore of the Senate, third in the line of presidential succession. His office said Monday that he died of respiratory complications at a Washington-area hospital.

Less than an hour after Inouye's passing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Inouye's death to a stunned chamber. "Our friend Daniel Inouye has died," Reid said somberly. Shocked members of the Senate stood in the aisles or slumped in their chairs.

Inouye was a World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient who lost an arm to a German hand grenade during a battle in Italy. He became the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, when he was elected to the House in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. He won election to the Senate three years later and served there longer than anyone in American history except Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in 2010 after 51 years in the Senate.

President Barack Obama, a native of Hawaii, said in a statement, "Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye. ... It was his incredible bravery during World War II — including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor — that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him."

Inouye died after a relatively brief hospitalization. Once a regular smoker, he had a portion of a lung removed in the 1960s after a misdiagnosis for cancer. Just last week, he issued a statement expressing optimism about his recovery.

Despite his age and illness, Inouye's death shocked members of the Senate.

"I'm too broken up," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who becomes president pro tem of the Senate. Leahy also is poised to take over the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"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," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a replacement, choosing from a list of three candidates selected by the state Democratic Party. "We're preparing to say goodbye," Abercrombie said. "Everything else will take place in good time."

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