- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, a reluctant 11th-hour replacement for Sen. Robert G. Torricelli on the New Jersey ballot last November, has pledged to serve out his full term and work to bring Democrats back into the majority in the Senate.

Mr. Lautenberg, 78, said he is "making all the commitments that one makes when they plan to stay" in Washington, including looking to buy a home.

"I'm not here for a two-year ride," he said. "I may even want to help change the [Republicans] to more of a minority position, and that would make our plans better, but that will take time. That can't happen in the next two years."

The most seasoned junior senator in the Democratic caucus, Mr. Lautenberg previously served in the Senate from 1982 to 2000, resigning because he said he was tired of the "arm-twisting" and constant fund raising of the modern Senate.

He was largely considered his party's third or fourth choice to be New Jersey's Democratic candidate after Mr. Torricelli who had a contentious relationship with Mr. Lautenberg when they served together stepped aside amid ethics questions in September.

Mr. Lautenberg would be just shy of his 85th birthday when his term ends in 2009.

Despite his stated intention to serve out his term, many political watchers in New Jersey and Washington believe Mr. Lautenberg will remain in the Senate for no more than a few years.

"The feeling is that he's just kind of a place-filler until [Democratic Gov.] Jim McGreevey can appoint a new senator," said a Republican Party staffer in New Jersey.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said Mr. Lautenberg will be "an unhappy warrior" and predicts that "all the things that made it attractive to return to New Jersey in 2000" will be there again soon.

"If he wasn't happy before, he won't be happy now with his party in the minority," Mr. Keene said.

For however long he serves, Mr. Lautenberg has pledged to pick up where he left off in 2000.

"I want to continue to work on the things I did before," Mr. Lautenberg said, singling out management of Amtrak, which was a longtime pet issue of a man who has lived most of his life in the commuter town of Paterson, N.J.

"My inclination and aspiration is that I will have a good chance to deal with Amtrak first-hand," Mr. Lautenberg said.

If so, it will be from the bottom of the seniority totem pole quite a drop, considering he was ranking member of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee when he resigned in 2000. As top Democrat on that subcommittee, Mr. Lautenberg worked hard to keep the money-losing Amtrak going.

Mr. Lautenberg also once enjoyed high seniority on the Budget and Environmental and Public Works committees. But from his new, lower posts on the Commerce and Government Affairs committees, Mr. Lautenberg said he still expects to get a lot done.

"[Lack of seniority] won't prevent me from working on the same issues," Mr. Lautenberg said. "I'm hoping I can be involved in transportation issues and environmental issues."

Mr. Lautenberg, who includes strict environmental laws and smoking bans in his long legislative record, was popular with liberal organizations. His lifetime liberal rating from Americans for Democratic Action is 93 percent, the highest of any senator from New Jersey since ADA began keeping score in 1947. Three times since 1990, Mr. Lautenberg notched perfect scores.

His campaign Web site described him as a "gun-control leader" and "100 percent pro-choice." Conversely, Mr. Lautenberg received consistent "F" grades from the National Taxpayers Union, and the American Conservative Union gave him a rating of zero in 2000.

"Lautenberg was a knee-jerk, old-style liberal who was, generally speaking, intolerant of opposition," Mr. Keene said. "And it would have been a better world if he had taken his retirement to heart and not come back."

Jeanette Hoffman, communications director for the New Jersey Republican Party, said Mr. Lautenberg had a "disturbing pattern of voting against our nation's military and against our servicemen and women overseas."

"He's voted against military pay raises, voted to slash our military budget time and time again," Miss Hoffman said.

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