WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is bidding farewell to Frank Lautenberg, the chamber’s oldest member and the last World War II veteran to serve there.
Lautenberg was a liberal Democrat who represented New Jersey for nearly three decades in the Senate. He died Monday at the age of 89 after suffering complications from viral pneumonia.
His casket was due to arrive at the Capitol early Thursday afternoon and lie in repose in the Senate chamber atop the Lincoln Catafalque, a bier built for the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln.
“Senator Lautenberg was one of the most effective and productive senators ever to serve in this body,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “His leadership as well as his laughter and kindness will be missed.”
Upon arrival of the casket, the Senate chamber will be closed for about 15 minutes to give family members time alone. After that, senators and staffers will be allowed to pay their respects for about an hour before the public will be allowed to view the casket from the Senate gallery.
The late Robert Byrd of West Virginia was the last senator to be commemorated in the chamber. He died in 2010 at the age of 92.
Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday praised Lautenberg’s tenacity at a funeral in New York City that was crowded with dignitaries, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“He never quit anything,” Biden said. “He never gave up.”
Lautenberg’s casket left New Jersey after the funeral aboard an Amtrak train for his return to Washington.
After serving in the Army Signal Corps, Lautenberg got help from the GI Bill and earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia University. He ran for the Senate in 1982 after amassing a fortune as a founder of a payroll company, spending $3 million of his own money to beat Republican Rep. Millicent Fenwick, the model for the cartoon character Lacey Davenport in “Doonesbury.”
Lautenberg was never among the Senate’s most gifted speakers, but he made a mark as a staunch advocate of gun control and a frequent critic of the tobacco industry. He touched the everyday lives of Americans by writing laws banning smoking on most U.S. airline flights and setting the national minimum drinking age of 21.
Health problems had forced him to miss many votes this year. In April, he returned to the Senate in a wheelchair for votes on gun legislation.
Lautenberg will be buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.