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Ike Skelton, Former Longtime Congressman, Dies at 81

Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who spent more than three decades in Congress and served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, died Monday. He was 81.

Two senior House aides confirmed Skelton's death to ABC News.

Skelton, who was elected to 17 terms in the House, fell short in his bid for re-election in 2010 when Democrats lost control of the House. His defeat became a symbol of the Tea Party wave that swept Republicans into power.

Vicky Hartzler, a Republican, won the race and re-election in 2012.

Skelton was a champion of the military – and military spending – and vigorously defended Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base in his sprawling rural Missouri district.

President Obama released a statement on Skelton's legacy Monday night. Obama said, "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. To many in Congress and across Missouri, Ike was a mentor and a friend, and he will be missed."

Monday night at the Capitol, following dinner with House Democrats, Vice President Joe Biden mourned Skelton, whom he described as a "great friend." 

Biden said, "He had that ingredient that a lot of Democrats and Republicans have that is the ultimate currency in this place. He had absolute, total, thorough integrity. Whatever he told you he would do - no exaggeration - you could count on it."

Skelton died Monday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., the Democratic officials said, where he was surrounded by family and friends.

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