U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States has lost a "great leader" in Senator Edward Kennedy, who died Tuesday night at his Massachusetts home at the age of 77.
In a statement released early Wednesday morning by the White House, Mr. Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, are "heartbroken" about Kennedy's passing. The president paid tribute to the legendary lawmaker's work over nearly five decades in the U.S. Senate, on such issues as civil rights and health care.
Mr. Obama hailed Kennedy as "the greatest United States Senator of our time."
Kennedy's Senate colleague, Majority Leader Harry Reid, said it was "the thrill of my lifetime " to work with a man he called the "patriarch" of the Senate.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch - one of Edward Kennedy's fiercest political opponents and closest friends in that chamber of the U.S. Congress - said the Democratic lawmaker will be remembered as "someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate, and the work completed within its chamber."
Nancy Reagan, the wife of the late President Ronald Reagan, called Kennedy "an ally and a dear friend." Despite the political differences between her husband, a hero of conservative Republicans, and the stalwart liberal Democrat, Mrs. Reagan said she and Senator Kennedy found common ground on the issue of stem-cell research.
Nancy Reagan has become a strong advocate of stem cell research, which many believe will lead to treatment for illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, which led to President Reagan's death in 2004.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to Kennedy's niece, Maria Shriver, called him "the rock of our family," and a champion of social justice.