Biden acknowledged the endorsement he received from Powell, a registered Republican who was upset with his party’s political turn, and reflected on their friendship.
“He could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business — something I learned firsthand on the race track when I was Vice President. And I am forever grateful for his support of my candidacy for president and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation,” said Biden, who ordered that flags be flown at half-staff in honor of Powell until Oct. 22.
Later, at an event with teachers, Biden called Powell a “dear friend and a patriot.”
Former president George W. Bush said many presidents “relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He 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.”
Former president Barack Obama praised Powell for forging a path that aimed to make reaching high levels in government less challenging for Black Americans.
“He never denied the role that race played in his own life and in our society more broadly,” Obama said. “But he also refused to accept that race would limit his dreams, and through his steady and principled leadership, helped pave the way for so many who would follow.”
Obama, the first Black president, noted that Powell’s endorsement of him in 2008 was pivotal during a difficult time in the presidential campaign.
“At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could,” he said.
While disputing rumors that Obama was a Muslim, Powell sought to combat growing Islamophobia in the country — often instigated by some in the GOP.
“Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2008. “Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Powell served as secretary of state under Bush — a tenure that was marred by a 2003 appearance before the United Nations in which Powell cited faulty information in seeking to make the case for U.S. war against Iraq.
That episode was largely set aside Monday, however, as tributes poured in for a man whose career in public service began when he was a soldier in Vietnam.
Vice President Harris celebrated Powell as an independent thinker who continued to exemplify the best of America’s ideals long after he had left the spotlight.
“He upheld the highest standards, representing our nation with dignity, grace, and strength,” she said.
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised Powell for being a role model for many young members of the military. “He was an inspiring and dedicated Army officer, having served 35 years in uniform and concluding his military career as the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” he said. “He was known for his steadfast leadership, unwavering professionalism, and love of country.”
Powell was the first African American to serve as secretary of state and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was urged at several points to run for president but never mounted a bid.
Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who served in the Army during the Vietnam War era, long before heading to Capitol Hill, praised Powell’s military leadership.
“Simply stated, Colin Powell was a great general, a distinguished combat soldier, an outstanding statesman, and an inspirational leader whose transcendent presence served as a beacon and a rock to present and future generations,” he tweeted.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) celebrated Powell’s journey as a testament to the American Dream.
“It is hard to imagine a more quintessentially American story: A son of Jamaican immigrants who learned Yiddish from his boyhood neighbors in the Bronx becomes a four-star general in the United States Army and serves four presidential administrations, including as National Security Advisor, the youngest-ever Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first Black Secretary of State,” he said in a statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Powell a “patriot” and praised his military service, while noting that his death serves as a reminder of losses inflicted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The sad loss of Colin Powell is another sad indication of the devastating toll that the coronavirus continues to take on our country,” she said. “As we pray for General Powell’s loved ones, we pray for the families of the nearly 725,000 Americans who have been taken from us by this vicious virus.”
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who served with Powell, also pointed to Powell’s role as a trailblazer.
“General Powell had a remarkably distinguished career, and I was fortunate to work with him,” Cheney said in a statement that noted Powell’s service in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, among other things. “Colin was a trailblazer and role model for so many: the son of immigrants who rose to become National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of State.”
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he had been personally moved by Powell’s achievements.
“As a young Black man, I was inspired by Secretary Powell, who showed there is no limit to what we can be or achieve,” Harrison said in a statement.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black GOP member of the Senate, also credited Powell for having broken “countless barriers along the way.”
On Twitter, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) called Powell “a wise, decent & generous spirit” and noted that Powell got married on the same day that Leahy did.
“He & Alma were married on the same day that we were and most yrs on that day we’d talk with & tease each other,” Leahy said. “Our hearts are heavy & our thoughts are w/ Alma & their family.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the nation’s first Black defense secretary, called Powell “one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed.”
“Alma lost a great husband, and the family lost a tremendous father, and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor,” Austin told reporters. “He always made time for me, and I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.”
“Quite frankly, it is not possible to replace a Colin Powell,” Austin added, noting Powell’s trailblazing status as the first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as secretary of state.
Despite his controversial role in selling the Iraq War, Powell was broadly popular within the State Department for the attention he paid to the needs of the men and women of the Foreign Service.
On Monday, the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. diplomats, released a statement calling Powell “a true patriot and public servant.”
“Few secretaries have devoted as much time and energy to ensuring that the professional career Foreign Service was properly staffed, resourced, consulted, and respected,” the AFSA said in a statement. “For that, Secretary Powell will always be remembered with great affection and appreciation.”
Remembrances of Powell were also shared by those with whom he worked around the globe.
Jack Straw, Britain’s former foreign secretary and Powell’s counterpart, called him “a brilliant diplomat because he always had time for people.” They last exchanged messages a month ago.
Powell was “indefatigable in the amount of work that he put in. My wife nicknamed him ‘the other man in her life,’ ” because he used to call at 11 p.m., Straw said to the BBC.
He said Powell regretted the way he presented the case for the invasion of Iraq: “He did regret it, as did I.”
“He felt rather personally that this had been a blight on an otherwise impeccable reputation,” Straw said, “but it is my belief that people will see his career in the balance and put that against all his other extraordinary achievements.”
“He could have been president,” Straw said. He said he and Powell talked “a number of times” about his decision not to run and that “the reason, he told me … was because of his wife.”
John Hudson in Washington and Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.