Tom Lantos, 1928-2008

This extremely sad news, just in:

lantos.jpgCongressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, San Francisco), 80, passed away this morning due to complications from cancer at Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

Elected to office in 1980, Lantos was Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and one of the country’s leading champions of human rights. His commitment to this issue was forged when, as a young man, he lost nearly his entire family in the Holocaust.

Today he was surrounded by his wife, two daughters, and many of his 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

After being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late December, Lantos announced on January 2 that he would not seek reelection. He said at the time, “It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a Member of Congress. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”

The only survivor of the Shoah ever elected to Congress, Tom Lantos was in his 14th term. His Democratic colleagues elected him chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January 2007. He was also a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

tom-and-annette.jpgThroughout his adult life Lantos sought to be a voice for human rights and civil liberties. He and Annette Lantos, his childhood sweetheart and wife of nearly 58 years were, as Lantos put it, “full partners both in Congress and in life,” and they continued their work right up to his final days. Tom Lantos was the founding co-chairman of the 24-year-old Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which Annette directed as a volunteer since its inception. He also founded the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus.

Annette said that her husband’s life was “defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family.”

The date for a public memorial service has not yet been set.

I’ll be adding testimonials from various VIPs as the day progresses, after the jump… Continue Reading


State of the Union reactions

lee3.jpgRep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — who just two weeks ago told community leaders she doesn’t believe “earmark” should be a dirty word and so she’s doing all she can to get her district its fair share of federal dollars — said she was stunned by the President’s call to slash such spending.

“Look at the president’s earmarks he puts forth every year – I’m totally flabbergasted at what he’s talking about,” she said a few minutes ago, noting that Bush himself requested more than $20 billion in earmarks in 2006, and that Democrats already have enacted transparency rules and other reforms that were absent during Republican control of Congress. “Many communities in the country, such as my community, deserve some of their federal dollars back… people pay taxes in these congressional districts and they deserve some of their federal dollars back in the form of earmarks.”

Long a leader in the global battle against HIV/AIDS, Lee said the President’s call for increased spending still falls short. “Given the magnitude of the pandemic, we’re suggesting $50 billion in our reauthorization bill; $30 billion is not enough,” she said, adding she was disappointed Bush failed to address the disease’s impact on America, particularly in communities of color.

She said she fears his demand to keep the economic-stimulus package clear of any add-ons. “You know what that means: don’t add food stamps or extension of unemployment benefits,” she predicted, even as five million more people have fallen below the poverty line during Bush’s tenure. “I would think he’d want to do as much as he could to help poor people in this economic stimulus plan.”

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Lee said she also fears the 150 “bloated” programs he said he’ll try to slash probably include just the sorts of programs for which she and others have fought hard – things such as violence prevention, outreach to at-risk youth and other support structures for low- and middle-income communities. “We’ll be ready for the fight,” she vowed.

And she said she’s “not surprised but disappointed” at his stay-the-course tone for the war in Iraq. “I think we have to mount more aggressive efforts here in the House to end it … to put up no more money except for a fully funded withdrawal of the troops.”

All in all, she said, “I’m very pleased that this was the last State of the Union speech that we’ll have to listen to and respond to by George W. Bush.”

pete-stark.jpgRep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, viewed the speech on television at home, although his grandson – Timothy Wainwright, 16 – was on the House floor as a newly-sworn Congressional page. Stark said he wishes his grandson had been witness to a more inspiring moment.

“I think you just watched what history will determine was the worst president in the history of the United States reviewing all the bad things he has done,” he said. “I think you got more excitement out of the presidential debates on both sides of the aisle over the last few months than you did tonight… It was not a speech with a great deal of charge and change for the American public, it just kind of summarized a lackluster administration.”

Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said he was dismayed by President Bush’s continued call for privatizing Medicare and Social Security, as well as for maintaining the war in Iraq. “I didn’t hear a lot tonight, I literally didn’t hear a new idea or something he didn’t raise the last time.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who in past years has been quick to provide an elegant verbal riposte following President Bush’s State of the Union addresses, wasn’t available for comment Monday night. Let’s hope that this has little to do with his recent announcement that he’s starting treatment for esophageal cancer, and rather that he simply wanted the night off.

Statements issued by Ellen Tauscher, Jerry McNerney and others, after the jump… Continue Reading


The week in review

Lots goin’ on this past week, so I thought maybe we could recap some of the highlights…

We saw Bill Clinton in Oakland trying to mobilize a mostly-minority crowd for Hillary, and we saw Barack Obama in San Francisco trying to mobilize women.

We saw Tom Lantos endorse Jackie Speier to succeed him, and we saw Leland Yee promptly declare he’s not running — but wait, here comes Yul Kwon, a San Mateo management consultant who won the $1 million prize on “Survivor: Cook Islands” in 2006, reportedly considering a run. He’s a former aide to U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. — which quite frankly might be more hinderance than help in Lantos’ district.

We saw Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorse Proposition 93, which would lower the total number of years a state legislator could serve from 14 to 12, but would let him or her divide those years between the houses as they choose — and would grandfather current officeholders so people like Don Perata and Fabian Nunez could serve another term. The governor’s own party this week called Proposition “a self-serving measure, authored by a small group of state legislators seeking to extend their terms in office beyond the limits set by voters in Proposition 140.”

We saw the Green Party hold a presidential debate in San Francisco, with former George Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney a clear front-runner.

And we saw Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums give a passionate State of the City Address… but it’s not his passion with which some disgruntled residents are taking issue.


Lantos endorses Speier to succeed him

lantos.jpgHouse Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who announced this month that he’s suffering from esophageal cancer and so will retire from Congress at the end of this current, 14th term, today endorsed former state Senator Jackie Speier to succeed him.

“Jackie Speier has been working on behalf of the people of Peninsula and San Francisco for decades, and she is our best candidate for the United States Congress,” Lantos said in a news release. “From her earliest days as a staff member for the late Leo Ryan to the offices she has held at the local and state levels, Jackie has always been a first-class public servant who has made the community’s most pressing priorities her own. With her impressive record of achievement and her unique life experience, Jackie will bring to Washington all the heart and soul, muscle and grit that makes for an effective new member of the House.”


Speier, who ran a close but unsuccessful race for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2006 and was termed out of the Legislature later that year, has been polling and lining up donors for this race for almost a year, and formally declared her candidacy Sunday. State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who succeeded Speier in that state Senate seat, announced Monday he won’t run against her for Lantos’.


Lynn Woolsey endorses Hillary Clinton

woolsey.jpgRep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, today announced her endorsement of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, for president; in doing so, she has disagreed with her fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair, Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who has cast her lot with U.S. Sen Barack Obama, D-Ill.

The eight-term congresswoman, in a news release, cited Clinton’s commitment to ending the war in Iraq as the top reason for her backing: “Hillary Clinton is the candidate with the strength and experience to bring about the change that California families need. I trust Hillary to end the war in Iraq, bring our troops home quickly and safely, and regain our nation’s standing around the world.”

Said Clinton: “I am honored to receive Lynn’s support. She has been a tireless fighter for working families and has led the effort to end the war in Iraq.”

Other local representatives supporting Clinton include Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo; Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; and Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater — notably, perhaps the three greater Bay Area Democrat considered most centrist, while “Woolsey” and “centrist” are hardly ever spoken in the same sentence. Meanwhile, Lee is the only California member of Congress on Obama’s endorsement list; that choice also set her apart from her political mentor, longtime Congressman and current Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, who picked Clinton.


What they’re saying about Bhutto

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated, and the news releases are flying…

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who has known Bhutto for many years and met with her a few months ago during her last visit to Washington before her return to Pakistan:

lantos.jpg“Today, the world has witnessed a tragedy in Pakistan. This was a cowardly attack by extremist elements. Madam Bhutto was a stalwart of moderation, a force for democratic values, and a personal friend. I express my sincere condolences to her family, to her many friends, and to the people of Pakistan for the loss of one of their daughters.

“This atrocious attack should compel the United States to renew our commitment to the people of Pakistan and to the voices of moderation. Although one of those voices has been prematurely silenced today, it is up to all of us to make sure that those who have perpetrated this hideous act are brought to justice, and that those who continue to spew the venomous, hate-filled rhetoric of extremism are vanquished.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

feinstein.jpg“I met Benazir Bhutto when she was Prime Minister and came to this country, and the women of the Senate organized a breakfast with her. She was a brave woman who had the courage to return to Pakistan in the face of death threats, and she survived a previous attack on her life just two months ago. My heart and thoughts go out to her family and to the people of Pakistan, and I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. This indeed is a very difficult and tragic moment. My hope and prayer is that the Pakistani people will pull together, and allow the country to proceed on its road to democracy.”

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.:

obama.jpg“I am shocked and saddened by the death of Benazir Bhutto in this terrorist atrocity. She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss, and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

romney.jpg“We are still learning the details of today’s tragic events in Pakistan, but this is a stark reminder that America must not only stay on high alert, but remain actively engaged across the globe. Pakistan has long been a key part in the war against extremism and radical jihadists. For those who think Iraq is the sole front in the War on Terror, one must look no further than what has happened today. America must show its commitment to stand with all moderate forces across the Islamic world and together face the defining challenge of our generation – the struggle against violent, radical jihadists.

“At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers go to the family of Benazir Bhutto, and to all the people of Pakistan who are fighting against extremist forces that would commit such heinous acts as the whole world has witnessed today.”

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio:

kucinich.jpg“This is a very dangerous moment for the world. Prime Minister Bhutto represented the forces of reform and the hope for an end to repression in a troubled region, and her death is a major loss to those efforts.

“This terrible tragedy also underscores the need for the United States to adopt a new foreign policy toward the entire region because our current policy is all wrong. Our interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan has opened wide the doors of repression and violence. At this very moment, we should be working with leaders of the region to convene a meeting at the highest levels to begin a new effort towards stabilization and peace.

“The United States must take a new direction in Pakistan and throughout the region. I met her several times, both in Washington and New York. She was deeply and genuinely dedicated to Pakistan. This is a tragic loss.”