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Former Sen. Jim Jeffords Passes Away at 80

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., passed away Monday morning at the age of 80, a former aide to Jeffords confirmed to ABC News.

Jeffords, who once was a Republican before becoming an independent and caucusing with Democrats, was in declining health and died at the Knollwood Military Retirement Residence in Washington, D.C. around 7 a.m.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., weighed in on Jeffords' death in a statement to ABC News.

“He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend. He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate's history,” Leahy said.

Later on Monday, President Obama also issued a statement on Jeffords' passing:

Michelle and I send our deepest sympathies to the family of Senator James M. Jeffords on his passing.  Jim devoted his life to service – as a Naval officer, a local leader in his hometown of Shrewsbury, and eventually as a U.S. Senator representing his beloved Vermont.  During his more than 30 years in Washington, Jim never lost the fiercely independent spirit that made Vermonters, and people across America, trust and respect him.  Whatever the issue – whether it was protecting the environment, supporting Americans with disabilities, or whether to authorize the war in Iraq – Jim voted his principles, even if it sometimes meant taking a lonely or unpopular stance.  Vermonters sent him to Washington to follow his conscience, and he did them proud. 

Our prayers are with the Jeffords family, including his son Leonard and daughter Laura.  And we’re grateful to Jim for his legacy of service to Vermont and the United States of America. 

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