Guy Benson

Frank Lautenberg, the last World War II veteran serving in the United States Senate, died of natural causes this morning at the age of 89:

Frank R. Lautenberg, who rose from a poor Paterson boyhood to become a multimillionaire businessman and New Jersey’s longest-serving U.S. senator, died Monday at 89 of viral pneumonia, his office said. The oldest member of the Senate, Lautenberg had struggled with health problems since late last year, when he missed several weeks of votes because of what he said was flu and bronchitis. The death of Lautenberg, a Democrat, creates a vacancy that Gov. Christie, a Republican, will fill. Lautenberg returned to Washington in February and announced he would not seek re-election in 2014, but hoped to complete a series of accomplishments before his term ended. He had a breakthrough last month on one of them, a bill to overhaul the law that regulates chemicals used in household products, when a bipartisan compromise bill was unveiled. But he also experienced weakness in his legs throughout the year, and missed several more weeks of votes. On May 16, he returned in a wheelchair and said he was feeling better and hoped to be in Washington more regularly.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lautenberg family as they grieve their loss.  Politically, Lautenberg was a reliable liberal vote in the Senate, where he served five terms spanning three decades.  He was an anti-smoking crusader and an ardent defender of public funding of Amtrak.  He retired from the Senate in 2000, only to be thrust back into the game two years later when fellow Democrat Sen. Bob Torricelli became embroiled in scandal and exited the race very late in the cycle.  Lautenberg stepped in at the eleventh hour and won the election by ten points against a relatively unknown Republican opponent.  Lautenberg's passing may impact the balance of power in the Senate, at least temporarily.  According to New Jersey law, Gov. Chris Christie will select a placeholder who will serve until a special election is held, probably in November.  Lautenberg's office announced in February that he would not seek re-election in 2014.  Prior to the Senator's death, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was already widely believed to be eyeing the opening, and is therefore a likely candidate to run in the special election to fill Lautenberg's seat for one year.   If he wins -- which is a very strong possibility -- Booker would have to run for the same seat again in 2014 in order to secure a full six-year term.  As for the issue of Lautenberg's very temporary replacement (whose term would last less than half a year leading up to the special election), New Jersey political observers are speculating about Christie's next move.  There's a chance that the governor could appoint a Democrat, but perhaps a safer bet is that he'll install one of the GOP's recent Senate nominees: Tom Kean, Jr. -- son of the former Republican governor -- and Joe Kyrillos, a Christie ally who lost to Sen. Bob Menendez last year.  Both are State Senators.  Another possibility is Christie's Lt. Governor, Kim Guadagno.  

UPDATE - Here is a report about Christie's impromptu eulogy of Lautenberg.

UPDATE II - Video added, via Time:

Guy Benson

Guy Benson is's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography