Congressional leaders in both parties were grieving Monday afternoon over the loss of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who died after suffering from complications from gallbladder surgery. He was 77.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whom Murtha challenged for the No. 2 leadership job in 2006, praised Murtha’s tenure in the military and in Congress.
“Rep. Murtha served his country as a Marine in Vietnam and in Congress for more than three decades,” Hoyer said in a statement. “He worked hard for Western Pennsylvania and he consistently guarded the interests of our men and women in uniform. I offer my sincere condolences to his family.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, praised Murtha for dedicating “his life to serving the nation he loved.” That point was made more clear, he said, by Murtha becoming the longest-serving Member of Congress in the history of Pennsylvania just three days ago.
“As a Marine who wore the uniform for 37 years, Congressman Murtha courageously fought in Vietnam. As Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Congressman Murtha worked to ensure that our men and women in uniform and their families had the support and resources they deserve,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised Murtha’s military service in a statement: “Today, our nation has lost a decorated veteran and the House of Representatives has lost one of its own.”
Boehner also reached out to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had a close relationship with Murtha. “I also want to express my condolences to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who valued Congressman Murtha’s advice and friendship. He will be missed.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) summed up Murtha as “a Congressional giant.”
“John Murtha was a great American who served his country in many different capacities. His deep love for America was reflected in all of his work. My wife and I send our deepest sympathies to the Murtha family. We truly loved John,” Kucinich said in a statement.
Kucinich said he was “privileged” to nominate Murtha to run for Majority Leader in 2006.
“I nominated him because of his dedication to America, his love of country, his love for the men and women who serve America and his understanding of the practical aspirations of those Americans who struggle everyday,” he said.
Chairmen who served with Murtha over several decades weighed in on the loss of Murtha to their ranks.
“Jack Murtha was the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress and he was incredibly effective in his service in the House. He understood the misery of war. Every person who serves in the military has lost an advocate and a good friend today,” Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said in a statement.
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Murtha was a “first-class Marine and Member of Congress.”
“His advocacy of the Armed Forces and the state of Pennsylvania made him a true champion for his constituents. I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family,” Skelton said in a statement.
House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said Pennsylvanians “should be saddened by the news that my good friend Jack Murtha died suddenly this afternoon. Jack’s shoes will not be filled because he was a one-of-a-kind public servant and a rare breed of American whose love of country ran as deep as anyone I know.”
Brady recalled how he would “kiss my friend Jack on the cheek” and “share a smile” each week before Congress adjourned.
“There is no smarter, tougher, kinder, funnier or more revered Member of the House of Representatives, and I will miss seeing him each time I walk on the floor,” he said.
Rep. Joe Sestak (D), another Pennsylvanian, praised Murtha’s “unyielding commitment” to his constituents and said he most admired Murtha’s decision to run for Congress after returning from Vietnam.
“He holds my greatest respect for the courage he showed in serving as a United States Marine and subsequently becoming the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress. In doing so, he gave a voice to millions of men and women who fought in an unpopular war and were not afforded the respect and care they earned and deserved,” Sestak said in a statement.
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said Murtha was “a public servant in every sense of the word and his passing is a great loss to all of Pennsylvania.”
While House Republicans targeted Murtha in recent years for his alleged ethical transgressions, they, too, expressed sorrow over the news of his death.
Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) described Murtha as a “true patriot” and said Congress “will be a much lesser place without him.”
“Words cannot describe the loss my wife Arlene and I feel for my dear friend, Jack Murtha. … Jack and I served together for over 30 years, and I have never seen a more valiant defender of the men and women of our armed forces, nor a more steadfast advocate for our country’s unequaled national defense,” Lewis said.
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.