By Kate Sullivan, CNN
President Joe Biden on Monday mourned the loss of Colin Powell, describing him as a “dear friend” and a dedicated public servant who broke barriers as the first Black US secretary of state.
“Colin Powell was a good man,” Biden said in a statement. “He will be remembered as one of our great Americans.”
“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity,” Biden said.
The President continued: “From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong. Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else — in uniform and out — and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.”
Powell’s leadership in several Republican administrations helped shape American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. His family announced on Facebook that he had died from complications from Covid-19 at the age of 84.
A source familiar with the matter said Powell had multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response. Even if fully vaccinated against Covid-19, those who are immunocompromised are at greater risk from the virus.
Biden noted that when he was a senator, he worked closely with Powell when he served in Republican administrations as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as secretary of state.
“Over our many years working together — even in disagreement — Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect,” Biden said.
Biden noted Powell broke racial barriers, “blazing a trail for others to follow.” He said Powell was committed to investing in the next generation of leadership and that his leadership “always included a focus on future.”
“Above all, Colin was my friend,” Biden said. “Easy to share a laugh with. A trusted confidant in good and hard times.”
Biden continued: “He could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business — something I learned firsthand on the race track when I was Vice President.”
Biden and Powell appeared on an episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” in 2016 and raced each other in Corvettes.
The President said he is “forever grateful” for Powell’s support for his presidential candidacy “and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation.”
“I will miss being able to call on his wisdom in the future,” Biden said.
Powell endorsed Biden in the 2020 presidential election and recorded a video that played at the Democratic National Convention in which he attempted to appeal to more centrist voters.
The 2020 election was the fourth straight presidential election in which Powell backed the Democratic presidential nominee over the Republican. He supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on October 22 to honor Powell’s life and service to the nation.
Vice President Kamala Harris described Powell as an “independent thinker and a barrier breaker who inspired leaders in our military and throughout our nation.”
Harris said she last saw Powell in July at a dinner honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I was reminded then how he always showed the world the best of who we are. He upheld the highest standards, representing our nation with dignity, grace, and strength,” Harris said in a statement.
Former presidents pay tribute
All living former presidents issued statements on Powell, with Donald Trump characteristically breaking decorum to issue a scathing criticism of Powell’s involvement in the Iraq War.
Barack Obama called Powell an “exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot.”
“Everyone who worked with General Powell appreciated his clarity of thought, insistence on seeing all sides, and ability to execute. And although he’d be the first to acknowledge that he didn’t get every call right, his actions reflected what he believed was best for America and the people he served,” Obama said.
Obama said: “It was the way Colin Powell saw the world — not as a starry-eyed idealist, but as someone with deep and abiding faith in this country and what it stands for — that made him such a central figure.”
Bush said Powell was “such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice.”
“He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend,” Bush said.
Bill and Hillary Clinton called Powell a “courageous soldier, a skilled commander, a dedicated diplomat, and a good and decent man.”
“The son of immigrants, he rose to the top levels of military, civilian, and non-governmental service through intelligence, character, and the ability to see the big picture and attend to the smallest details,” their statement reads. “He lived the promise of America, and spent a lifetime working to help our country, especially our young people, live up to its own ideals and noblest aspirations at home and around the world.”
“Rosalynn and I join so many around the world in mourning the loss of General Colin Powell. A true patriot and public servant, we were honored to work beside him to strengthen communities in the United States, help resolve conflict in Haiti, and observe elections in Jamaica,” Jimmy Carter said.
He continued, “His courage and integrity will be an inspiration for generations to come. We will keep his family in our prayers during this difficult time.”
Trump struck a different tone on Tuesday morning, criticizing Powell and the coverage of his death.
“Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media,” Trump said in a statement. “Hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO, if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.