WASHINGTON – As Britain weeps, America mourns. Flags across the nation’s capital – from the White House to the people’s House of Representatives – are now flying at half-staff as they honor the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II.
Even if the idea of a monarch is antithetical to the American spirit, the queen maintained a special place in the hearts of American political leaders from Harry Truman, whom she met in 1951, through President Joe Biden. Her loss is being felt by lawmakers of all stripes.
“It's sad. I know it was expected, but it's very sad,” John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters at the Capitol minutes after the news broke. “America weeps for our friends in the UK.”
The Louisiana senator spent a brief stint on the other side of the pond in the seventies when the young lawyer spent a year studying at Oxford. The queen’s stature has always stuck with him.
IN OTHER NEWS: 'See you all in Court!' Trump threatens Lincoln Project after new ad appears on Fox News
“I spent a little time there, and the queen brings stability even when things are very divisive. And when I was there, unions were very strong and there were strikes every other week. UK was in the process of reexamining its place in the world. Its world power had been waning economically and militarily, and so there was some instability,” Kennedy remembered. “But the queen, she just represented stability.”
Besides graduating with honors in his Bachelor of Civil Law program at Oxford, Kennedy also got to know some of his classmates. While British politics have heated up in recent years, Kennedy remembers the queen, for the most part, rose above the mudslinging.
“I don't know what it's like now – I mean, I’ve visited but I certainly haven’t lived there in a while – but nobody ever criticized the queen,” Kennedy remembered. “This was before [the death of Princess] Diana, of course, but I didn’t hear a single – even cynical, college kids – you never heard them make jokes about the queen or be critical in any way.”
On the other side of the aisle, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined Kennedy and his other colleagues in honoring the legacy of a titan. He took to the Senate floor shortly after learning the news.
WATCH: Michigan Republican squirms when reporter confronts her about telling poll workers to 'act like spies'
“It is a marvel to think that in the same year of Her Majesty’s coronation, Harry Truman was still in the White House. The world was still coming out of the shadow of the Second World War, entering a bold, uncertain, uncharted future,” Schumer said.
The leader also recounted that Queen Elizabeth was the first British Monarch to be specially invited to speak to both chambers of Congress, which he said strengthened the bond between the two nations because America doesn’t have royalty. We have Congress.
There have been seismic shifts in culture and technology over Schumer’s four decades in Congress, but that sweeping span of time pales in comparison to the queen’s seven decades wearing the crown.
“Her reign saw the dawn of the atomic age, the age of the internet, the fall of the Soviet Union, an unprecedented global pandemic,” Schumer remembered. “She didn’t just witness the great turns of history, she helped shape them over the seven decades - seven decades - of her reign.”
ALSO IN THE NEWS: 'Really smart': Legal experts praise DOJ move in Mar-a-Lago investigation
Even in today’s hyper-partisan Washington, the queen maintained respect across the great political divide.
“It's just bittersweet,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Raw Story as he exited the Capitol. “The combination of longevity, impeccable character, and steadfast leadership during war and peace will be hard to – I don't think we'll ever see that again.”
The loss of her, Graham argued, will be felt across the globe.
“It's a sad day for the British people and really, I think, for the world at large to lose somebody that seemed to be sort of a Rock of Gibraltar,” Graham said.
As the news broke, the Senate was wrapping up its short Labor Day work week, which meant senators rushed to cast their last vote and then sprinted to awaiting cars destined for the nearest airport or open road. After Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wrapped up a private conversation with a colleague on the Senate steps, he darted to the passenger side door of an awaiting SUV.
“I’ve got nothing. Nothing,” Manchin said as I approached him. “I’m not talking.”
“Death of the queen though, any reaction?” I pressed.
“Oh my God. That’s awful,” Manchin replied, as he paused momentarily to reflect. “Only queen I’ve ever known.”
Even with all the soaring remembrances pouring out of Capitol Hill, this is America – a monarchy-free zone since 1776. Our rebellious ancestors severed ties with the heavy-handed British crown of their day. A few decades later they came back looking for blood during the War of 1812. Red coat donning British soldiers again trampled on hard-won American soil, including when they stormed the Capitol and sacked White House – which forced President James Madison and First Lady Dolly Madison to flee to neighboring Maryland – in 1814.
Through it all, America has maintained its independence and democratic principles, even as subsequent generations of political leaders maintained our unique, monarch-free republic. While the queen was surely beloved here, all the trappings of her reign – hereditary aristocracy, scepters, crowns, and jewels – remain antithetical to the American way.
That may explain why one of America’s most well-known recent populist politicians initially shrugged off the news.
“Any reaction to the death of the queen?” I asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“No,” Sanders replied.
The Vermont senator, his signature frizzy gray hair, unkempt as usual, took a few more steps across the Capitol grounds before he softly, almost to himself, offered one final thought: “I liked her.”