Biden: Carl Levin was among 'most honorable and decent people I have ever known'

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — President Joe Biden on Friday remembered the late U.S. Sen. Carl Levin as "one of the most honorable and decent people I have ever known."

Levin, who had lung cancer, died Thursday at age 87. He and Biden had served together in the Senate for 30 years before Biden left the body to be vice president to President Barack Obama in 2009.

Levin, Michigan's longest-serving senator, was part of the Senate from 1979 until his retirement in 2015, chairing the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

"Brilliant, humble, and principled, Carl earned the trust of his constituents and colleagues by doing the work. He studied the issues in detail. He forged consensus across the aisle. He built coalitions across his beloved Michigan," Biden said in a statement issued by the White House.

President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 26, 2021.

"With his head tilted down, his eyes peering over his glasses — Carl always looked people straight into their own eyes, listened with an open mind and responded the way he saw it with respect."

Levin demonstrated "how democracy — and our institutions — can deliver and work for the people," Biden added. 

He described a kinship with Levin owing to their both first diving into public life prompted by issues of civil rights and then first running for elected office — Levin on the Detroit City Council and Biden on the New Castle County Council in Delaware.

When Biden visited Michigan, he said they would talk about the beauty of the Great Lakes and the Detroit RiverWalk, but "most of all, we would talk about family."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, died Thursday, Aug. 29, 2021, at age 87.

Biden hailed Levin for building consensus among partisans on the Armed Services panel and leading on issues ranging from nuclear nonproliferation, ending the use of detainee torture and pushing to end the policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military.

Biden also credited Levin, "a son of Detroit who never forgot where he came from," for his work to help prop up the ailing auto industry during the Great Recession: "We worked together to do everything we could to get them back up. And they did because of Carl."

"On education, gun safety, on holding corporate America accountable for abuse and greed, and so much more — Carl always looked out for the people," Biden added.

The president conveyed his love to the Levin family and acknowledged the "heavy toll" that cancer takes. Biden's son, Beau, did of brain cancer in 2015.

"Carl Levin embodied the character of the people of Michigan he served throughout his remarkable career," Biden said. "Above all, he embodied the best of who we are as Americans."

Biden's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also expressed condolences for the Levin family on behalf of the armed services, saying the nation and world are safer places thanks to Levin's service atop the Armed Services panel. 

"He leaves a lasting legacy of rigorous oversight over defense programs and a deep commitment to cooperative threat reduction," Austin said in a statement.

Austin highlighted Levin's close partnership with his GOP counterpart, the late Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who died in May, demonstrated "the degree to which he believed national security was not — and should not be — a political issue."

"Throughout it all, his North Star remained the same: vigorous support for our national defense, accountability to the American people and tireless advocacy on behalf of our men and women in uniform, as well as their families," Austin said.

mburke@detroitnews.com