June 5th, 2013
04:12 PM ET
7 years ago

Biden, Hillary Clinton speak at Lautenberg funeral

(CNN) - Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those who spoke candidly and cracked a few jokes at the funeral of their former friend and colleague Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who passed away this week at the age of 89.

Speaking at the service in Manhattan, Biden reflected on his time serving with the New Jersey Democrat in the Senate and recounted their shared fondness for Amtrak. One time when the then-senator was hustling to catch Amtrak back to Delaware, he ran to the train only to hear a conductor tell him there was no need to rush.

"Don't hurry, we're holding the train for Lautenberg," Biden was told. The vice president talked about how well he treated Amtrak workers over the years.

"They never held the train for me," he joked.

The vice president said Lautenberg had been his best friend in the Senate. "He's the only guy that made me feel I was junior to him, but I was there longer than him."

"I knew Strom Thurmond so well literally I was asked to do his eulogy. I did his eulogy. This is a lot easier," Biden joked.

An influential businessman-turned-legislator, Lautenberg scored big victories in Congress, including a ban on smoking on airplanes, preventing domestic abusers from possessing guns, cracking down on drunken driving, and the "Toxic Right to Know" law about the release of pollutants into communities.

Lautenberg, the last World War II veteran in the Senate, announced in a statement in February that he would not seek re-election next year, but he continued to push for stronger gun control laws.

"As Frank would say, `You know it is not where you sit that counts it is where you stand.' And there was never any doubt where he stood," Clinton said. "He did stand with those families who keep their children safe from toxic chemicals, from smoking, from drunk driving. He stood with the victims of gun violence and HIV AIDS."

While Lautenberg's funeral was attended by big political names from New Jersey and Washington, it was his family members who stole the show. Lautenberg had six children and 13 grandchildren.

His daughter, Lisa, had laryngitis but asked her daughter, Molly, to read remarks for her. She finished the speech with some statistics.

"Two hundred pieces of `Lautenberg for Senate' memorabilia in my closet. Three thousand pieces of his opponents' memorabilia that I took down during campaigns and buried in my backyard, " she said, as the audience laughed. "Six trips to Israel to learn about our Jewish heritage with my dad. Three hundred new friends I lost during my freshman year at college when Dad raised the drinking age."

His son, Josh, also drew some laughs.

"If my father was here he would have really loved this party I tell you. He'd say, `Wow, look at all these people. You couldn't get the Israeli prime minister or the Pope? Oh, that's OK'," he said.

His daughter, Ellen, said her father had been expressing regret that he announced in February he wouldn't seek re-election in 2014.

"On days that were good he would say I never should have made that retirement speech," she said.

Lautenberg was first elected to the Senate in 1982 and won re-election twice. He did not seek re-election in 2000 when his third term expired, but was recruited to run again two years later after Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli quit his re-election bid weeks before the polls opened amid reports of ethical issues. Lautenberg was then re-elected in 2008.

His wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, thanked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for help with her late husband's upcoming burial. He had wanted to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery but never did the paperwork.

"He couldn't face his own mortality, and figured it would get done," Englebardt Lautenberg said. "It did get done, and thank you Harry."

The only thing that would have made Lautenberg happier, she said, was "if this was a fundraiser for his next campaign."

Lautenberg's casket will be led with an honor guard through the train station named after him Secaucus, New Jersey and travel via Amtrak train to Washington, D.C.

His body will lie in repose in the Capitol on Thursday and buried in Arlington on Friday.

CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

Filed under: Frank Lautenberg • Hillary Clinton • Joe Biden • New Jersey
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. swej

    A true patriot. He did good things for a lot of people. RIP Senator Lautenberg.

    June 6, 2013 03:13 am at 3:13 am |
  2. Lee Downie

    Re: the Lautenberg funeral: sounds as though a good time was had by all. A fine tribute to the man.

    June 6, 2013 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
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