Former Democrat Alaska senator and one-time presidential contender Mike Gravel died Sunday at the age of 91 at his home in Seaside, California following a battle with multiple myeloma, according to the Washington Post.
Gravel served Alaska in the U.S. Senate for two terms, spanning the years of 1969 to 1981, and he was perhaps best known for reading the voluminous Pentagon Papers – the Department of Defense’s own account of the early years of the Vietnam War – into the Congressional Record back in 1971 during a filibuster in protest of the draft, as NPR noted.
During his recitation, Gravel dramatically declared, “Arms are being severed. Metal is clashing through human bodies because of the public policy this government and all its branches continue to support,” before dissolving into tears and announcing that he was “physically incapable of continuing any longer.”
Gravel’s tenure in the upper chamber came to an end when he lost his state’s 1980 Democratic primary to Clark Gruening, grandson of Sen. Ernest Gruening, the man to whom he dealt a primary defeat back in 1968.
After departing the Senate, Gravel entered presidential politics as a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, running in 2008 as a Democrat in the election eventually won by Barack Obama. He made memorable waves during party debates in that election cycle, pressing the then-Illinois senator about his feelings about the use of nuclear weapons. “Tell me, Barack, who do you want to nuke?” asked Gravel.
Upon being excluded from participation in later Democratic debates, Gravel announced that he would run as a Libertarian, declaring that his former party “no longer represents my vision for our great country,” adding, “It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism – all of which I find anathema to my views.”
Gravel also launched a short-lived run for the 2020 Democratic nomination, mainly designed to “get his ideas before a larger audience,” and not to actually win the race, according to former aide Theodore Johnson. Upon failing to meet the qualification threshold for debate participation, Gravel endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1930, Gravel served in the U.S. Army, spending time in Europe during the Korean War. After receiving an economics degree from Columbia University in 1956, he relocated to Alaska as a young man and served as a state representative for a period in the mid-1960s.
Gravel leaves behind to mourn his passing a wife, Whitney Gravel, two children from his first marriage, two sisters, four grandchildren, and one great-grandson.