WASHINGTON — With reverential words and warm memories, President Obama on Friday led the admirers paying tribute to the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a war hero and senator for 50 years who was hailed for his leadership and modesty. Obama said Inouye was the one who ‘‘hinted to me what might be possible in my own life.’’
‘‘For him, freedom and dignity were not abstractions,’’ Obama said at the National Cathedral Service. ‘‘They were values that he had bled for.’’
Inouye died Monday of respiratory complications. He was 88.
The tributes from the nation’s political leaders were deeply personal. Vice President Joe Biden said he remembered thinking of Inouye: ‘‘I wish I could be more like that man. He’s a better man than I am.’’
Former President Bill Clinton described Inouye as ‘‘one of the most remarkable Americans I have ever known.’’
Inouye was the first Japanese-American elected to both houses of Congress and the second-longest serving senator in US history. He was awarded a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, for bravery during World War II, including a heroic effort that cost him his right arm.
‘‘They blew his arm off in World War II, but they never, never laid a finger on his heart or his mind,’’ Clinton said.
Inouye became one of the nation’s most influential politicians, playing key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals.
Obama told a story of taking a summer trip across America as an 11-year boy and spending the nights watching the Watergate hearings on TV with his mother. The president said that as the son of a white mother and a black father, he found it captivating to watch Inouye.
‘‘To see this man, this senator, this powerful, accomplished person who was not out of central casting . . . and the way he commanded the respect of an entire nation, it hinted to me what might be possible in my own life,’’ Obama said.
Hawaiian music played during the service, reflecting Inouye’s love for his home state. Inouye was Hawaii’s first congressman.
One speaker after another described Inouye as a political giant with refreshing humility.
Obama said that Inouye ultimately decided he had done OK in representing his state and his nation the best he could.
‘‘Danny, you were more than OK,’’ Obama said. ‘‘You were extraordinary.’’
On Thursday, colleagues and aides lined the Capitol rotunda five deep to say farewell.
Defense bill addresses Iran, diplomatic mission security
WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Obama a $633 billion defense bill for next year that would tighten penalties on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions and bulk up security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya.
The Senate voted 81-14 on Friday for the massive policy measure that covers the cost of ships, aircraft, weapons and military personnel. The vote came less than 24 hours after the House passed the bill, 315-107. The White House has threatened a veto, but it remains unclear whether Obama will reject the solidly bipartisan legislation. The bill passed by veto-proof margins.
The vote came against the backdrop of looming reductions in projected military spending driven by the automatic, across-the-board cuts that will take place if the ‘‘fiscal cliff’’ negotiations fail. The Pentagon faces cuts of $55 billion after the first of the year that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned would be devastating to the services.
Even if that is averted, the bill approved Friday reflects cuts in defense dollars that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, as well as the end to the war in Iraq and the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan.