(Bloomberg) -- Carl Levin, the former U.S. senator from Michigan who over a 36-year career became a dominant figure on the Armed Services Committee and a fierce champion of his state’s automobile industry, has died, his family said in a statement. He was 87.
A statement released late Thursday by Levin’s family and the Levin Center at the Wayne State University Law School did not list a cause of death.
First elected to the Senate in 1978, Levin was known for his somewhat rumpled appearance, glasses often perched on the tip of his nose, as well as for a phenomenal recollection of details and legislative minutiae, which he often deployed to the chagrin of Pentagon officials and corporate leaders who came before his committees. He retired from the Senate in 2015 as Michigan’s longest-serving senator.
Over those decades, Levin frequently collaborated and sometimes clashed with stalwarts of the Armed Services panel like John McCain of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia, though he was a Democrat and they were both Republicans. Warner died in May, McCain in 2018.
“We could not aspire to better service than what he has given our country,” McCain said on the Senate floor in praise of Levin shortly before his retirement.
Levin had an unwavering support for the automotive industry that gave his hometown the nickname Motor City, as well as the unionized workforces they employed.
As Detroit and Michigan reeled with the struggles of the big U.S. automakers, Levin made sure that help would be forthcoming from Congress. He backed the federal rescue of U.S. automakers during the 2008 recession, helped secure a “cash for clunkers” provision that provided trade-in vouchers for motorists to buy new vehicles, and later shepherded federal aid to Detroit as the city faced bankruptcy. He also maneuvered to weaken higher fuel economy standards, disappointing environmentalists in his party.
In other parts of corporate America, however, Levin was feared. In 2002, After the collapse of Enron, he summoned bank executives before his subcommittee on investigations to demand what they might have known about the company’s fragility.
Opposed Iraq war
Levin was among 23 senators who opposed the 2002 resolution that authorized President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and topple the dictator Saddam Hussein. Levin argued that Bush had failed to build an international coalition to share the military burden.
As U.S. casualties mounted and the war became unpopular, he pushed for troop withdrawals, saying military stability in Iraq could be achieved only by a political settlement among the Kurd, Sunni and Shiite factions.
Levin also led an inquiries into the treatment of military detainees and CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects. He was instrumental in the repeal of the so-called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that once barred openly gay people from serving in the military.
Levin was born in Detroit on June 28, 1934 and graduated from Swarthmore College before entering Harvard Law School. He was elected to the Senate after having been president of the Detroit City Council. An elder brother, Sander Levin, served in the U.S. House for 18 terms. One of Sander Levin’s sons, Representative Andy Levin, now holds that seat.
“Uncle Carl met with more presidents, kings, queens and other important people than all but a few of us ever will,” Andy Levin said in a statement. “But he treated them all the same as he did a Detroit autoworker or a beet farmer in Michigan’s Thumb – with a full measure of dignity but no airs.”
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