President Obama, former president Bill Clinton, and Vice President Biden are paying tribute to the late senator James Jeffords.
"Whatever the issue —whether it was protecting the environment, supporting Americans with disabilities, or whether to authorize the war in Iraq — Jim voted his principles, even if it sometimes meant taking a lonely or unpopular stance," Obama said in a statement.
Jeffords -- whose decision to leave the Republican Party party in 2001 tipped control of the Senate to the Democrats -- passed away Monday in Washington at the age of 80.
"Jim devoted his life to service — as a Naval officer, a local leader in his hometown of Shrewsbury, and eventually as a U.S. senator representing his beloved Vermont," Obama said. "During his more than 30 years in Washington, Jim never lost the fiercely independent spirit that made Vermonters, and people across America, trust and respect him."
Clinton, who released a joint statement along with wife Hillary, called Jeffords "one of our strongest advocates for better health and education, a cleaner environment, and increased opportunities for people with disabilities."
Biden, who served with Jeffords in the U.S. Senate, said in a joint statement with wife Jill that Jeffords "knew that with a country as diverse as ours, there is a need for consensus to move the country forward."
Jeffords "was a reflection of Vermont," Biden said. "Independent and non-ideological and always about solving problems."