Monday, June 3, 2013 | 3:04 p.m.
In eulogizing New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died today at age 89, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described him as one of the legislative house’s most dedicated public servants, from his beginnings as a World War II officer in the signal corps to one of his last appearances on the Senate floor, coming back from a battle with leukemia to cast a vote for gun control.
“Few people in the history of this institution contributed as much to our nation and the United States Senate as Frank Lautenberg,” Reid said.
Reid recalled several of Lautenberg’s causes, such as when he spearheaded a 21st century GI bill and successfully pushed to ban smoking on airplanes.
For Reid, aspects of Lautenberg’s legacy struck a personal chord.
“My youngest boy just hated cigarette smoke, it really made him ill,” Reid said. “Frank Lautenberg took care of my boy and millions of other people who would no longer have to suck in that smoke when in an airplane.”
Lautenberg’s and Reid’s history in the Senate are closely intertwined. Both started in 1982, and served on the Environment and Public Works committee, of which Lautenberg was expected to become chairman. But Lautenberg’s early retirement cleared the way for Reid to assume the chairmanship — a position that would greatly influence his ascent to majority leader. In 2001, Reid offered that chairmanship to Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords to get him to leave the Republican Party.
Lautenberg would eventually return to the Senate in 2003.
“He retired once. He couldn’t stand retirement. He hated retirement,” Reid said. “He couldn’t stay away from public service.”
But Reid said he would miss Lautenberg most for something that couldn’t be counted in bills sponsored and terms served: His sense of humor, which Reid said rivaled that of even the Senate’s most noted funnyman.
“Frank and Al Franken always made us smile and often made us laugh,” Reid said. “Now I think it’s going to be up to Sen. Franken to do it on his own.”