Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, a World War II veteran who served five terms in the Senate, died Monday, leaving one of New Jersey’s Senate seats empty and marking the first time in roughly 70 years that the chamber will be without a someone who saw service in that war.
Mr. Lautenberg, an 89-year-old Democrat who helped anchor the Senateâ€™s liberal wing, made his mark in office by sponsoring legislation that ended smoking sections on airplanes and by pushing for stricter gun controls.
But he was also the last of 115 senators known to have served in World War II â€” a group that helped steer America into its position as a world superpower, and to expand the social contract to include a robust welfare state at home.
â€œThe World War II vets witnessed great changes in history from an expanded role for the federal government and the rise of civil rights and womenâ€™s rights movements,â€ said Darrell West of the Brookings Institute. â€œThey were more likely to see the federal government as a positive contributor to the country than those who came afterwards.â€
Mr. Lautenbergâ€™s death means New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will pick his successor, putting a major decision in the hands of the Republican governor. If he appoints a Republican to the seat it will cut into Democratsâ€™ majority, splitting the chamber with 52 Democrats, 46 Republicans and two independents who side with Democrats.
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