Gun-Control Advocate Frank Lautenberg Dies at 89

Lautenberg fought for national drinking age, for stricter public smoking laws, and for gun control.

(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Lautenberg had been plagued by a series of health scares after he was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2010.

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Five-term Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the last surviving World War II veteran in the U.S. Senate, died Monday at the age of 89.

He had been away from Capitol Hill for most of the 113th Congress, but had remained a key player when issues of partisan gridlock arose.

Lautenberg had been plagued by a series of health scares since he was diagnosed with a treatable form of blood cancer in 2010. In April, he released a statement that he would regrettably be working from home as the Senate met to debate gun-control legislation, a legislative topic for which he had long advocated. Lautenberg had authored multiple bills to keep domestic abusers from being able to buy guns.

[PHOTOS: Remembering Sen. Frank Lautenberg]

"My physician continues to advise me to work from home and not travel at this time," Lautenberg said in a released statement.

But Lautenberg did ultimately make the trek to Washington to support his Democratic leadership when it became clear that the vote would be close to pass a background check bill.

 

Lautenberg's final return to Capitol Hill came in May when he arrived in Washington to make sure President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, was confirmed. Senate Republicans had been blocking the nomination and boycotted a meeting to confirm her May 9. Without a quorum, the nomination was stalled. The committee's Democrats were able to confirm McCarthy without any GOP votes later in the month because everyone, including Lautenberg, was in attendance.

Lautenberg first retired from the Senate in 2000, but he couldn't stay away and launched a successful bid for re-election in 2002.

[READ: Lautenberg Challenges GOP on Food Stamp Cuts]

His legislative accomplishments included curbing public tobacco use and sponsoring a bill that stopped passengers in flight from being able to light up. He also helped to establish the national drinking age of 21.

Now, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will appoint a new senator to fill the seat until a special election is held later this year. The winner of the special election will serve until the general election is held in November 2014.

Lautenberg had already decided in February he would not seek re-election in 2014 after mounting evidence that Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who sought a primary challenge against the Senate veteran, was clipping at his heels in the polls.

Lautenberg was born in Paterson, N.J., to Polish and Russian immigrants.

Lautenberg is survived by 13 grandchildren, four children, two stepchildren and his wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg.  

Senators sent out notes of condolence Monday after the news broke.  

"The entire Senate is saddened today by the loss of our colleague, Senator Frank Lautenberg," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "The Senate's last remaining World War II veteran, Frank was a patriot whose success in business and politics made him a great American success story and a standout even within the fabled Greatest Generation." 

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