WASHINGTON— Senator Daniel Inouye, the second-longest serving senator in US history, was remembered Thursday as a man who gallantly defended his country on the battlefield and gracefully sought to better it during the 50-plus years he represented his beloved state of Hawaii.
Colleagues and aides lined the Capitol Rotunda to say farewell. The rare ceremony demonstrated the respect and good will he generated over the years. Only 31 people have lain in the Capitol Rotunda; the last was former President Gerald R. Ford nearly six years ago. The last senator who died in office and was accorded the honor was Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, in 1978.
‘‘Daniel Inouye was an institution, and he deserved to spend at least another day in this beautiful building to which he dedicated his life,’’ said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Inouye’s closed casket was draped with the American flag during the morning ceremony and placed atop the same catafalque that supported the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. His family and staff looked on as Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to a man whom Biden said made him proud to be called a senator.
Inouye was Hawaii’s first congressman. In his early days in Washington, Inouye’s modesty would never have allowed him to think he would walk the halls of the Capitol for the
next five decades, Boehner said.
Inouye died Monday from respiratory complications. The Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was 88.
Before Inouye made his mark as a politician, he did so as a war hero who lost his right arm while leading his platoon into battle on a ridge in Italy. He later was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.
House approves defense bill despite Pentagon objections
The House on Thursday passed a $633 billion defense bill for next year despite Pentagon complaints that it spares outdated but politically popular weapons at the expense of the military’s ability to fight.
The vote was 315-107 and sent the legislation to the Senate, where leaders hoped to wrap up the measure. The White House had threatened a veto of earlier versions of the bill, and spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the threat still stands.
The far-reaching policy bill that covers the cost of ships, aircraft, weapons, and military personnel would authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.
The bill is $1.7 billion more than Obama requested.
House Republicans and Democrats debated the measure against the backdrop of high-stakes talks to avert the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts and the loud cry for a sweeping deal to slash the deficit.
Democrats argued that the bill runs counter to demands for fiscal discipline.
‘‘This bill is more money than the Pentagon wants,’’ said Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. ‘‘We’re just throwing money at them.’’
Specifically, the bill spares a version of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, includes upgrades for tanks and money for armored vehicles.
In a speech this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized the pressure on the Pentagon to keep weapons that it doesn’t want.
Biden says White House wants to curb gun violence
WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration is ‘‘absolutely committed’’ to curbing gun violence in the United States and will push to tighten gun laws in response to last week’s school shooting in Connecticut.
Biden is a longtime gun control advocate, who is overseeing the response to the killing of 20 students and six school staff members in Newtown, Conn.
Obama set a January deadline for the group, which is considering changes such as reinstating a ban on military-style assault weapons, closing loopholes that let gun buyers skirt background checks.
Groups urge US inquiry into $12m in Tea Party donations
WASHINGTON — Two election watchdog organizations want the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to investigate more than $12 million in campaign contributions mysteriously funneled through two unknown companies in Tennessee. The money went to a prominent Tea Party group, which spent it on congressional races. The origin of the money, the largest anonymous political donation in a campaign year filled with them, remains a secret.
The watchdog groups were the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21.