WASHINGTON - Former US congressman Ike Skelton, a 17-term Democrat who capped his career as chairman of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, died on Monday, according to US lawmakers. He was 81.
Skelton died at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, with his wife Patty and his sons at his side, said Skelton's longtime colleague and staff member, Russell Orban.
Skelton had entered the hospital about a week ago with a cough, but grew weaker as other complications developed, said Orban, who was present when Skelton died.
"He was beloved and respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Ike was a devoted advocate for our men and women in uniform," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Vice President Joe Biden said in a Twitter message Skelton had "absolute, total, thorough integrity."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Skelton "a selfless patriot who led with humility and put his country and constituents first."
In a statement, she said Skelton fought to bridge what he called "a chasm between those who protect our freedoms and those who are being protected."
Prodded into politics by Harry Truman, Skelton represented his largely rural, conservative district in Missouri for 34 years before being defeated in November 2010.
With a district that was home to Fort Leonard Wood, Whiteman Air Force Base and the Missouri National Guard Training Center, Skelton became chairman of the Armed Services Committee in 2007 after being the panel's senior Democrat since 1999.
While he voted for the resolution backing the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, he criticised the administration of George W. Bush for stretching the military too thin and for not having a clear plan to end the war.
After a trip to Iraq in 2006 he cited the administration's lack of planning to deal with sectarian violence, failure to deploy enough troops and other policy shortcomings, and concluded, "We are now, I think, strategically lost."