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.


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