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5 Highlights From Frank Lautenberg's Political Career 5 Highlights From Frank Lautenberg's Political Career

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5 Highlights From Frank Lautenberg's Political Career

The senator was a lifelong liberal, but made many Democratic enemies.


(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., died Monday morning at 89 from viral pneumonia complications. A lifelong liberal, the senator announced earlier this year he would not run again in 2014, clearing the way for Newark Mayor Cory Booker to seek the Democratic nomination for the seat. Lautenberg's Senate career spanned 28 years, with a short gap in his service from 2000-2003 when he first retired. He later returned to help his party hold the seat after Robert Torricelli was forced out in disgrace.

Here's a look at five highlights from Lautenberg's career. Plus, don't miss the Almanac of American Politics' biography of the late senator as well.


He was the last World War II veteran in the Senate. Lautenberg served in the Army Signal Corps for four years as an enlisted soldier and attained the rank of technician five, according to the Library of Congress. He served in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and France and left the Army in 1946. Lautenberg credited the GI Bill for allowing him to get a college education. In a 2007 interview, he described the camaraderie of serving in the Army. "It was an assimilation of different cultures, environments: country boys, city boys, tough guys, not-so-tough guys; but we all got along and we had to fend for one another," he told the Library of Congress for their project on World War II veterans.

In 2004, Lautenberg toured the newly opened World War II memorial with fellow veterans including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who died last year.

Lautenberg had frosty relationships with other Garden State Democrats. Earlier this year he publicly rebuked Booker for signaling that he would run for the Senate before Lautenberg had decided whether to retire. "He's got a lot of work to do—a lot of work that should have been done and hasn't been done," Lautenberg told National Journal earlier this year. Lautenberg later announced he would retire.


A clash between Lautenberg and Torricelli at a Democratic caucus meeting spilled into the headlines in 1999 over Torricelli's indirect support for a possible campaign by Republican Christine Todd Whitman. Democrats who witnessed the exchange were "stunned," reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Torricelli directed profanity toward Lautenberg, and their relationship never recovered, according to reports. So in 2002, when Torricelli became the subject of an ethics investigation and state Democrats sought a candidate to replace him on the ballot, Lautenberg put his name forward, and went on to defeat Republican Doug Forrester.

Lautenberg also campaigned aggressively against Rep. Rob Andrews in the Democratic primary in 2008, dismissing claims that he was too old to serve and hitting Andrews for supporting the Iraq war. Lautenberg won handily, 59 percent to 35 percent.

He battled against smoking in public places throughout his nearly three-decade-long career. He wrote the measure that set the legal age for purchasing alcohol at 21. In 1987, he worked with then-Rep. Dick Durbin of Illinois to ban smoking on airline flights of less than 2 hours. Lautenberg, a former smoker, supported a bill banning smoking in all buildings that run federally funded children's programs that became law in 1994. Earlier this year, he cosponsored legislation aimed at cutting back on the illegal trafficking of tobacco products.

Lautenberg was a longtime supporter of gun control. He authored a gun law in 1996 that barred people convicted of domestic-violence crimes from possessing firearms. After he won reelection in 2008, he proposed legislation that would require background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows. After the lethal shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was severely injured, Lautenberg proposed banning high-capacity magazines. On the day of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Lautenberg called for an immediate legislative response. "If we do not take action to address gun violence, shooting tragedies like this will continue," he said in a statement.


5. Lautenberg supported liberal causes through his Senate career.  Despite his personal wealth, Lautenberg routinely supported higher taxes to fund government spending. In 2010 he was among 19 senators who voted against a deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. "Because of a good business career, I made some money and the last thing I need is a tax cut. I'd rather have a strong country than a tax cut," he said, according to the Star-Ledger. Lautenberg was also an avid earmarker before the moratorium on the practice in 2010. In 2007, he won $14.7 million for a rail project that aimed to connect New Jersey to Manhattan. In 2010, he sought to bring home $206 million for the rail project, and criticized Republican Gov. Chris Christie for opposing the project. "The governor has put politics before performance, and it is the people of New Jersey who will pay the high price," Lautenberg said.  

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