WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the oldest member of the Senate and the last World War II veteran serving there, has died at age 89.
His office said that the millionaire New Jersey Democrat died shortly after 4 a.m. EDT yesterday at a New York hospital after suffering complications from viral pneumonia.
Lautenberg, who had been called out of retirement for a second tour of duty in Congress, announced in February that he would not seek a sixth term. The Democrat had health problems in recent years and had missed several Senate votes in the first months of the year. He had the flu and missed the Senate’s Jan. 1 vote to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of rising taxes and falling government spending, then missed several votes two months later because of leg pain.
A chest cold kept him from attending a May 29, 2013, tribute in New York honoring him for his contributions to the Jewish community and Israel.
He had been diagnosed in February 2010 with B-cell lymphoma of the stomach and underwent chemotherapy treatments until he was declared in June 2010 to be free of cancer. He worked between the treatments. The diagnosis came just days after the death of West Virginia’s Robert Byrd made Lautenberg the oldest member of the Senate.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie would appoint a successor to Lautenberg.
Lautenberg was a staunch gun control advocate and frequent critic of the tobacco industry, and he fought for greater government spending on transportation and the environment. He wrote the laws banning smoking on domestic airline flights and setting the national minimum drinking age of 21.
A longtime advocate of gun control, Lautenberg returned to the Senate in April despite being in poor health for several votes on gun legislation favored by Obama, most Democrats and a handful of Republicans.