Biden: “It’s Beyond My Capacity to Do Justice to Lautenberg”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s funeral was held yesterday at the Park Avenue Synagogue. Among the speakers were Vice President Joe Biden, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). 41 Senators, Gov. Chris Christie and six members of the House of Representatives attended the event.

Menendez said:

Frank Lautenberg was a man for his time. One of the greatest generation. The last of the Senate to have served in World War II. His story was an American story, but from his heart and for his lifetime, he was a kid from Paterson, New Jersey.

More after the jump.

Anyone who knew Frank knew he was destined to make something of himself. And he did.

Clinton said:

Frank always had something to say. It was usually a running commentary of what we were doing and what we weren’t doing. You just couldn’t help but have a smile on your face at least one time during the conversation.

Biden, who gave the longest speech, said:

I realize it’s beyond my capacity to find the words to do justice to Frank Lautenberg.

The Vice President also told that Lautenberg met with him around Christmas and asked his advice about whether he should run for another term in the senate. Biden told him he should. “it was clear that he desperately wanted to run again,” he said. “He never quit anything. He never gave up. He never gave in.”

Biden joked that he often rushed to Union Station to catch the train back to Delaware. One time, he said, he got to the station late and found the conductor waiting on the platform. “I got up to the conductor and he said ‘Hey Joe, don’t worry. You’re Okay. We’re holding it up for Lautenberg.’ They never once held it for me.”

Lautenberg’s wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg gave the final speech. She said the only thing that would have made her husband more happy than seeing all his friends there was to see them at a campaign fundraiser for him. “He taught us how to think at a much deeper level,” she said.

Senator Frank Lautenberg Dies at 89

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the last World War II veteran in the Senate, died today at the age of 89. (John Dingell (D-MI) and Ralph M. Hall (R-TX) are the two surviving World War II veterans in the House of Representatives.) He served in the Senate continuously in the years 1982-2001, and again since 2003.

  • Lautenberg wrote the legislation that set the national drinking age at 21. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this law saved 4,441 lives between 2003 and 2008.
  • His legislation has also lowered the blood alcohol level threshold for drunk driving to 0.08%.
  • During the Bush administration, Lautenberger repeatedly introduced legislation to close the terrorist loophole which allowed American companies to set up offices in the Cayman Islands and continue to do business with the National Iranian Oil Company.
  • A former two-pack-a-day smoker, Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes, federal buildings, and federally funded buildings that serviced children. This was one of the first restrictions on smoking in America.
  • The Senator also sponsored the legislation which bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence.

After the jump: President Obama and Jewish organizations mourn the loss.


Lautenberg was the last World War II veteran in the United States Senate.

The White House issued the following statement by President Barack Obama:

Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, a proud New Jerseyan who lived America’s promise as a citizen, and fought to keep that promise alive as a senator.

The son of working-class immigrants, Frank joined the Army during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill, and co-founded one of America’s most successful companies. First elected to the Senate in 1982, he improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation’s health and safety, from improving our public transportation to protecting citizens from gun violence to ensuring that members of our military and their families get the care they deserve.  Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Bonnie, the Lautenberg family, and the people of New Jersey, whom Frank served so well.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley issued the following statement:

The entire National Jewish Democratic Council family extends its deepest condolences to Senator Frank Lautenberg’s family, friends, and the people of New Jersey. The late Senator leaves behind a distinguished record of public and Jewish communal service that distinguishes him as a giant among American Jewish political leaders. He was a staunch defender of progressive ideals and a stalwart advocate for the State of Israel and the American Jewish community. Lautenberg was a true friend to NJDC and we will forever miss his wisdom and insight.

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International mourns the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Lautenberg was a World War II veteran and a dear friend of the Jewish community. As a senator from New Jersey for more than 28 years, he was a staunch supporter of Israel, a champion of free emigration for Soviet and Iranian Jews, and a booster of the rights of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

Lautenberg died the morning of June 3 at the age of 89 due to complications from viral pneumonia. He was the oldest member and the last World War II veteran to serve in Congress.

Lautenberg was a respected voice on many human rights issues, and he was key in enacting a number of health and safety laws.

The five-term senator was well respected amongst his colleagues and constituents. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.


Left to right: Joy Malkus, Marcia Balonick,
Sen. Lautenberg, and Betsy Sheerr

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow and Chair Larry Gold said:

Senator Lautenberg’s passing is a loss for all of us and we will be forever grateful for his leadership, thoughtfulness and friendship. He exemplified the Jewish values of social justice and compassion which is why we were honored to award him the Al Chernin Award in 2007, in recognition of his leadership and service. With his death, we have lost the last veteran of World War II in the Senate and a Jewish and American leader who was clearly committed to a better world for all.

The Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said:

Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American. May his family and friends be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Romney & GOP Smears Encourage Israel’s Hostile Neighbors

Click here for videoExtracts of remarks by Sen. Frank Lautenberg blasting Gov. Mitt Romney and other members of the Republican Party for their continued use of Israel as a political wedge issue.

I rise today out of disbelief with the rhetoric coming from Republicans and their presidential candidate concerning the U.S. relationship with Israel. Unfortunately, Republicans want to use our relationship with Israel as a political game, which is terrible for U.S. national security and bad for Israel. The implication that we are weak in our support for Israel is foul play.

We have built a relationship between our countries that is firm and unshakeable since 1948. To try and clumsily interfere with that is shameful.

Republicans are distorting the state of U.S. – Israel relations for political gain, and sending the wrong signal to the rest of the world. When you listen to Republicans – especially their Presidential candidate Mitt Romney – discuss Israel, reality is often replaced with distortion and fantasy. Mitt Romney says President Obama has not been a friend of Israel.  But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

When we examine the record, it is clear that President Obama shares my convictions about the enduring bond between Israel and the U.S.

It is clear that there is no greater friend to Israel than this President. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

So that is the view from the Defense Minister of Israel.  He says that President Obama has done more for Israel’s security than any Administration in the past. This is coming from one of Israel’s most decorated military leaders -a man who helped plan the historic raid on Entebbe.  He understands Israel’s security.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the Obama Administration’s security policy for Israel ‘unprecedented.’

But if you listen to Republicans over here in the U.S., they say we have all but abandoned Israel’s security.  They are encouraging hostile neighbors with their misrepresentations.  Shame on them.

Governor Romney in particular has demonstrated frightening ignorance about Israel and its security needs. The prime example of this behavior is the Republican presidential nominee’s complete inability to articulate what exactly he would do differently.

When asked about what his policy regarding Israel would be, Romney famously said he would-‘Look at the things the President has done and do the opposite.’ What a threatening statement that is.

He says he wants to do the opposite of President Obama.  So let’s look at what that would really mean:

  • Last September, when the Palestinian Authority aggressively pursued a UN vote on statehood, President Obama stood strong and blocked it. If we are to believe Mitt Romney, however, he would have allowed this unilateral action on Palestinian statehood at the U.N. to proceed.
  • Under President Obama, the U.S. has sent Israel the largest-ever amount of military aid in American history ­- over three billion dollars. That’s an annual commitment over ten years that started in 2009.
  • And just a few days ago, President Obama signed into law a new bill that will strengthen U.S. security cooperation with Israel even further. But again, if we are to believe Mitt Romney, he would have lowered Israeli aid and weakened Israel’s defenses against the threats it faces.
  • And lastly, President Obama has stood absolutely firm in his call to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The Obama Administration has been clear that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threat to its neighbors. And President Obama has put in place the strongest sanctions ever against Iran-sanctions that have punished and isolated Iran more than ever before.
    If we are to believe Mitt Romney here as well, under a President Romney, America’s policy toward Iran would be one of accepting a nuclear-armed Iran that threatens Israel’s very existence.

M. President, the bottom line is this:  these are not simple problems and they will require real leadership to tackle.  And we cannot play games with America’s bestfriend. Israel continues to be threatened by rockets launched by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran appears intent on developing a nuclear weapon and is the foremost state sponsor of terror.

But instead of approaching these issues with the careful consideration they deserve, the Republicans seem intent on twisting reality for political gain.

And we see it on the domestic front too. The Republican Leader, has said his party’s top priority is to make President Obama a one term president, and they are using any pretense they can establish…

And if we take Mitt Romney’s word for it, they are certainly not aimed at doing what is in Israel’s best interests. Because when they simply wish for our President’s failure, they hurt America’s chances for success. And when they fail to put forth any ideas of their own, Mr. President, they show themselves to be unfit to govern and unable to lead. And the whole world knows that America’s leadership depends on its domestic strength and not casual political rhetoric that challenges America’s loyalty to its friends.