Video: President honors Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, hours before his death; Holbrooke's family was at reception...
At a packed Holiday Reception for the Diplomatic Corps at the State Department on Monday evening, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called President Obama's visit "a special treat." (Above: Clinton looks on as the President makes remarks)
The President was equally complimentary, calling Clinton "relentless," "tough," and still in possession of a sense of humor, "despite the jet lag."
"I think there’s a consensus building that this may be one of the best Secretaries of State we've ever had in this country’s history," the President said about Clinton, to cheers and applause. "One of my better decisions."
"It is a bipartisan view, by the way," he added, to more laughter. "That doesn’t happen very often."
But on a far more serious note, the President spoke about the work of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was recovering from heart surgery, and then unexpectedly passed away late in the evening, after the reception ended. Holbrooke's family was at the reception: His wife Kati and their children David, Anthony, Lizzie, Sarah, and Christopher. The President noted that he and Mrs. Obama were praying for Holbrooke's recovery, as he listed Holbrooke's many accomplishments.
"He is simply one of the giants of foreign policy," President Obama said. "I know that everyone here joins me when I say that America is more secure —- and the world is a safer place -— because of the work of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke."
As he thanked the Diplomatic Corps for their efforts, the President referenced his exhausting schedule of foreign travel this year.
"I'm reminded of how hard we've been working, because I recognize everybody--I've seen all of you here, I've seen all of you in your home countries," he said.
"You are the backbone of American foreign policy," President Obama said, noting that the Diplomatic Corps strengthens the bonds of "common humanity" that are shared by all.
"You show the world the very best of America," President Obama said.
President's Statement on Holbrooke's passing
Holbrooke, 69, died unexpectedly following heart surgery for a torn aorta. Late Monday night, the White House issued a statement from the President. It read in part:
Michelle and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Richard Holbrooke, a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected.
He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace. Earlier this evening at the State Department, I met with Richard’s wife Kati and their family, David, Anthony, Lizzie, Christopher and Sarah, and I spoke to Kati after Richard’s passing.
I expressed to them the gratitude of the American people for his lifetime of service. They are in our thoughts and prayers tonight. Tonight, there are millions of people around the world whose lives have been saved and enriched by his work. As I said earlier this evening, the United States is safer and the world is more secure because of the half century of patriotic service of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
*White House video, photos by Getty