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Thomas Peter Lantos (February 1, 1928 – February 11, 2008) was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from 1981 until his death, representing the northern two-thirds of San Mateo Countymarker and a portion of southwest San Franciscomarker. Lantos had announced in early January 2008 that he would not run for reelection because of cancer of the esophagus, but died before finishing his term. Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor to have served in the United States Congress.

Personal and family life

Born as Lantos Tamás Péter ( ) to a Jewish family in Budapestmarker, Hungary, Lantos was part of a resistance movement against the Nazis during the German occupation of Hungary. In his floor speeches, he sometimes referred to himself as one of the few living members of Congress who had fought against fascism.

He sought refuge in a safe house established by Raoul Wallenberg; in 1981 Lantos sponsored a bill making Wallenberg an Honorary Citizen of the United States. He moved to the United States in 1947, and though he became fluent in English, he retained a marked Hungarian accent for the rest of his life.

Lantos considered himself a secular Jew . Upon immigrating to the United States under the auspices of Hillel he attended the University of Washingtonmarker and the University of California, Berkeleymarker, receiving his Ph.D in 1953.

From 1950 to 1980, Lantos was a professor of economics, an international affairs analyst for public television, and a consultant to a number of businesses. He also served as a senior advisor to several U.S. Senators.

Lantos made his first run for office in 1980, when he defeated one-term Republican congressman Bill Royer by 5,700 votes. He never faced another contest nearly that close, and was reelected 13 times. He was the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress.

Lantos and his wife Annette have two daughters, Annette and Katrina, and 17 grandchildren.

His daughter Katrina, who married ambassador and former U.S. Representative from New Hampshiremarker Richard Swett, was a candidate for Congress in New Hampshire, running for the House of Representatives in 2002 against Charlie Bass and in 2008 for the U.S. Senate against John E. Sununu. His daughter Annette was married to Timber Dick, "an independent businessman in Colorado," until Dick's death on April 10, 2008 from burns suffered in an automobile accident.

Lantos appeared in the Academy Award-winning film The Last Days, a documentary of the Holocaust's effect on Hungarian Jews, and "To Bear Witness", another documentary.

Lantos often brought a small white terrier named Mackó ( , "little bear" in Hungarian) to his Capitol Hill office. Lantos's previous dog, a small poodle named Gigi, was also a fixture in Washington.

Lantos was an honorary member of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.

Political positions

Lantos was a strong supporter of the Iraq War from the start, but from 2006 onward made increasingly critical statements about the conduct of the war, and as the chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs he held 20 oversight hearings on the war in 2007. (See separate section below about the war in Iraq.)

Lantos was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and repeatedly called for reforms to the nation's health-care system, reduction of the national budget deficit and the national debt, repeal of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, and has opposed Social Security privatization efforts. He supported same-sex marriage rights and marijuana for medical use, was a strong proponent of gun control and was adamantly pro-choice.

Lantos was a well-known advocate on behalf of the environment, receiving consistently high ratings from the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental organizations for his legislative record. His long-standing efforts to protect open space brought thousands of acres under the protection of the Golden Gate National Recreation Areamarker, including Mori Point, Sweeney Ridge and — most recently — Rancho Corral de Tierra, which will keep its watersheds and delicate habitats free from development permanently. In 2005 he opposed an effort to expand public use of the Farallon Islandsmarker, a protected wildlife haven.

Lantos consistently championed local transportation projects that need federal funds and, given his seniority in Congress, proved successful at delivering this support.

Lantos was also involved in various human rights causes, such as having Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang testify at a congressional hearing, when the company turned over the email records of two Chinese dissidents to the Chinese government, allowing them to be traced and one sentenced to jail.

Foreign affairs issues

Lantos served as the chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Through its more than 20 years of work, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus — of which Lantos was co-chair with Representative Frank Wolf — has covered a wide range of human rights issues, including speaking for Christians in Saudi Arabiamarker and Sudanmarker to practice their faith, helping Tibetans to retain their culture and religion in Tibet, and advocating for other minorities worldwide. Lantos’s efforts to protect religious freedom in 2004 resulted in a bill to attempt to stop the spread of anti-semitism.

Lantos did, however, enjoy a friendship with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, even serving as a lobbyist for the Romanian regime. He praised Ceauşescu's work for international peace and visited Bucharest numerous times. Lantos even defended Ceauşescu's violent persecution of the Hungarian minority.

Lantos was involved with his colleagues on the International Relations Committee on many decisions that affected other aspects of American foreign policy. Lantos spoke out against waste, fraud and abuse in the multi-billion-dollar U.S. reconstruction program in Iraq, and warned that the U.S. could lose Afghanistan to the Taliban if the Bush administration failed to take decisive action to halt the current decline in political stability there.

Lantos, as the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, tried to disrupt U.S. military aid to Egyptmarker, argued that the Egyptian military had made insufficient efforts to stop the flow of money and weapons across the Egyptian border to Hamas in Gazamarker, and had not contributed troops to internationally-supported peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistanmarker and elsewhere. Lantos was a strong advocate for Israelmarker.

1991 Persian Gulf War

Lantos was a strong supporter of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During the run-up to the war, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, of which Lantos was co-chairman, hosted a young Kuwaitimarker woman identified only as "Nurse Nayirah", who told of horrific abuses by Iraqi soldiers, including the killing of Kuwaiti babies by taking them out of their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold floor of the hospital. These alleged atrocities figured prominently in the rhetoric at the time about Iraqi abuses in Kuwait.

The girl's account was later challenged by independent human rights monitors. "Nurse Nayirah" later turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Asked about his having allowed the girl to give testimony without identifying herself, and without her story having been corroborated, Lantos replied, "The notion that any of the witnesses brought to the caucus through the Kuwaiti Embassy would not be credible did not cross my mind... I have no basis for assuming that her story is not true, but the point goes beyond that. If one hypothesizes that the woman's story is fictitious from A to Z, that in no way diminishes the avalanche of human rights violations."

Lantos and John R. MacArthur, the foremost critic of the Nayirah issue, each had op-eds in The New York Times, in which each accused the other of distortion. MacArthur suggested that Lantos may have materially benefited from his having accommodated Nayirah. Nayirah was later revealed to have connections to lobbying firm Hill & Knowlton in the employ of Kuwaiti activist group Citizens for a Free Kuwait, and her story has since come to be regarded as baseless propaganda.

War in Iraq

On October 4, 2002, Lantos led a narrow majority of Democrats on the House International Relations Committee to a successful vote in support of the Resolution for the Use of Force, seeking the approval of the United Nations and under the condition that President George W. Bush would allow UN weapons inspectors to finish their work and that Bush would need to return to Congress for an actual declaration of war before invading Iraq. The resolution later passed the House and the Senate with a total of 373 members of Congress supporting it. "The train is now on its way," said Lantos after his — and Bush's — victory. In later hearings on the war, Lantos continued his enthusiastic support. At one point he was confronted by witnesses who questioned the likelihood of enthusiastic Baghdadismarker welcoming the invading Americans; Lantos called this a kind of racism, to suggest the Iraqis might be so ungrateful.

Starting in early 2006, Lantos has distanced himself from the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, making critical statements at hearings, on the House floor and in published media interviews about the conduct of the war. During hearings of the House International Relations Committee, where he was then the ranking member, Lantos repeatedly praised the investigative work of the office of the Special Inspector of Iraq Reconstruction General Stuart Bowen, which uncovered evidence of waste, fraud and abuse in the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars intended to help secure and rebuild Iraq.

Lantos was an immediate and consistent critic of the troop surge advocated by President Bush. On the night in January 2007 that Bush announced his plan, Lantos responded, "I oppose the so-called surge that constitutes the centerpiece of the President's plan. Our efforts in Iraq are a mess, and throwing in more troops will not improve it." And during a joint House hearing on September 10, 2007, featuring General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Lantos said,

At the same hearing, Lantos drew comparisons between some of the current U.S. activities in Iraq to U.S. support two decades ago of Islamic militants in Afghanistanmarker:

Darfur

On April 28, 2006, Lantos and four other Democratic U.S. Representatives (Sheila Jackson Lee, Jim McGovern, Jim Moran, and John Olver), along with six other activists, took part in a civil disobedience action in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C.marker They were protesting the role of the Sudanese government in carrying out genocide in the Darfur conflict and were arrested for disorderly conduct.

Hungarian minorities

Tom Lantos stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities several times as a member of the US House of Representatives. In a 2007 letter he asked Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia to distance themselves from the Benes decrees, a reasonable process in the Hedvig Malina case, and to treat members of the Hungarian minority as equal. He indirectly blamed the Slovak government for ethnically motivated attacks on Hungarians because the country's governing coalition included ultra-nationalist parties.

The American Hungarian Federation recognized Congressman Lantos for his "Leadership in Support of Democracy, Human Rights and Minority Rights in Central and Eastern Europe,” awarding him the organization's highest award, the "Col. Commandant Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom," at the October 19, 2005, Congressional Reception commemorating the 49th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Lebanon

On August 27, 2006, at the Israeli Foreign Ministry building in Israelmarker, Lantos said he would block a foreign aid package promised by President George W. Bush to Lebanonmarker and free the funds only when Beirut agreed to the deployment of international troops on the border with Syriamarker. Lantos was meeting at the time with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni after talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Planned retirement and death

On January 2, 2008, after having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Lantos announced he would not run for a 15th term in the House but planned to complete his final term, saying, "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." Lantos died of complications from esophageal cancer on February 11, 2008, before finishing his term. A special election was held to fill his seat on April 8, 2008 and was won by former State Senator Jackie Speier, whom Lantos had endorsed as his successor..

Shortly after his death, Roy Blunt, the House Republican Whip, stated that "Chairman Lantos will be remembered as a man of uncommon integrity and sincere moral conviction — and a public servant who never wavered in his pursuit of a better, freer and more religiously tolerant world."

A memorial service was held for Lantos on February 14, 2008 at Statuary Hall in the Capitol. Attendants included Senator Joe Biden, Bono of U2, Rep. Steny Hoyer, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Israelimarker foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Christopher Shays, and Elie Wiesel.

On June 19, 2008, President George W. Bush posthumously awarded Lantos the Medal of Freedom. In a ceremony at the White House, Bush stated "We miss his vigorous defense of human rights and his powerful witness for the cause of human freedom. For a lifetime of leadership, for his commitment to liberty, and for his devoted service to his adopted nation, I am proud to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, to Tom Lantos, and proud that his loving wife Annette will receive the award on behalf of his family."

The first Lantos Human Rights Prize, named in the congressman's memory, was presented to the 14th Dalai Lama in 2009.

Congressional scorecards

See also [all links dead]

Project Vote Smart provides the following results from congressional scorecards. [dead link]



Controversies

During a 1996 Congressional inquiry into the "Filegate" scandal, Lantos told witness Craig Livingstone that "with an infinitely more distinguished public record than yours, Admiral Boorda committed suicide when he may have committed a minor mistake." Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations, had taken his own life after his right to wear Combat V decorations had been questioned. Lantos was criticized by some (including fellow Congressman Joe Scarborough) who interpreted the remark as a suggestion that Livingstone too should kill himself.

On May 3, 2000, Lantos was involved in an automobile accident while driving on Capitol Hill. Lantos drove over a young boy's foot and then failed to stop his vehicle. He was later fined over the incident for inattentive driving. Per the case of Robert Novak, hospital residents check for brain tumors in patients who didn't realize they struck something in a car accident, as this can be a focal neurologic sign. [49020]

In 2002, Lantos, who was on the House Committee on International Affairs, took Colette Avital, a Labor Party member of the Israeli Knessetmarker, by the hand and, according to Ha'aretz, tried to reassure her with these words: "My dear Colette, don't worry. You won't have any problem with Saddam. We'll be rid of the bastard soon enough." He later denied saying this, but Avital confirmed it, according to Ben Terrall, an adviser to Maad H. Abu-Ghazalah, a Libertarian Party candidate who ran against Lantos that year.

In June 2007, Lantos called former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder a "political prostitute" at the dedication ceremony of the Victims of Communism Memorialmarker, which caused a political backlash from the German government. Lantos was referring to Schröder's ties to energy business in Russiamarker, and remarked that this appellation would offend prostitutes.

In October 2007, Dutch parliament members said Lantos insulted them while discussing the War on Terror by stating that the Netherlandsmarker had to help the United States because it liberated them in World War II, while adding that "Europe was not as outraged by Auschwitzmarker as by Guantanamo Baymarker."

Electoral history

: Results 1980–1990
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1980 85,823 46% Bill Royer 80,100 43% Wilson Branch Peace and Freedom 13,723 7% Libertarian 3,816 2% *
1982 109,812 57% Bill Royer 76,462 40% Chuck Olson Libertarian 2,920 2% Wilson Branch Peace and Freedom 1,928 1% *
1984 147,607 70% Jack Hickey 59,625 28% Kudrovzeff American Independent 3,883 2%
1986 112,380 74% Bill Quraishi 39,315 26%
1988 145,484 71% Bill Quraishi 50,050 24% Bill Wade Libertarian 4,683 2% Victor Martinez Peace and Freedom 2,906 1% *
1990 105,029 66% Bill Quraishi 45,818 29% June R. Genis Libertarian 8,518 5%

*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1980, Nicholas W.
Kudrovzeff, American Independent Party, received 1,550 votes (1%).
In 1982, Nicholas W.
Kudrovzeff, American Independent Party, received 1,250 votes (1%).
In 1988, Nicholas W.
Kudrovzeff, American Independent Party, received 1,893 votes (1%).


: Results 1992–2006
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1992 157,205 69% Jim Tomlin 53,278 23% Mary Weldon Peace and Freedom 10,142 4% George O'Brien Libertarian 7,782 3%
1994 Tom Lantos 118,408 67% 57,228 33%
1996 Tom Lantos 149,049 72% Storm Jenkins 49,276 24% Christopher V.A. Schmidt Libertarian 6,111 3% Richard Borg Natural Law 3,472 2%
1998 Tom Lantos 128,135 74% 36,562 21% Michael J. Moloney Libertarian 8,515 5%
2000 Tom Lantos 158,404 75% Mike Garza 44,162 21% Barbara J. Less Libertarian 6,431 3% Rifkin Young Natural Law 3,559 2%
2002 Tom Lantos 105,597 68% 38,381 25% Maad H. Abu-Ghazalah Libertarian 11,006 7%
2004 Tom Lantos 171,852 68% Mike Garza 52,593 21% Pat Gray Green 23,038 9% Harland Harrison Libertarian 5,116 2%
2006 Tom Lantos 138,650 76% Michael Moloney 43,674 24%

References

  1. Lantos, stricken with cancer, to retire at the end of the year San Francisco Chronicle, January 2, 2008. Accessed online 2 January, 2008
  2. Janine Zacharia, Lantos's List, Jerusalem Post, dated 13 April but year not given, presumably 2001. Janine Zacharia, Lantos' D.C. office is a Living Tribute to Wallenberg, originally from Jewish Bulletin of Northern California (credited as a Jerusalem Post Service story, and appears to be a reworking of the previous story), April 20, 2001; reproduced on Lantos's congressional web site. Aleza Goldsmith, Arab-American challenges Lantos in three-way race, j. (formerly Jewish Bulletin of Northern California), October 4, 2002. All accessed 25 September 2006.
  3. Timber Dick, a former city council candidate, dies, Rocky Mountain News, April 11, 2008.
  4. . Accessed 25 September 2006.
  5. Congressional Progressive Caucus membership list, accessed 25 September 2006.
  6. Vote Smart: Tom Lantos: Gun issues, accessed 25 September 2006.
  7. Vote Smart: Tom Lantos: Abortion issues, accessed 25 September 2006.
  8. Vote Smart: Tom Lantos: Environmental Issues, accessed 25 September 2006.
  9. Edward Epstein, BAY AREA: Recreation area about to get bigger: Historic rancho near Devil's Slide a deal at $15 million, San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2005. Accessed online 25 September 2006.
  10. Bush signs Lantos’ open space bill, San Mateo Daily Journal, December 22, 2005. Accessed online 25 September 2006.
  11. Index of Congressional Human Rights Caucus stories on Lantos's congressional site. Accessed 25 September 2006.
  12. Chronicle Washington Bureau, Bush inks Jewish bill by Lantos, San Francisco Chronicle, October 19, 2004. Accessed 25 September 2006.
  13. CONGRESSMAN SAYS GIRL WAS CREDIBLE, The New York Times. January 12, 1992
  14. Kuwaiti Gave Consistent Account of Atrocities, The New York Times. January 27, 1992
  15. Deception on Capitol Hill, The New York Times. January 15, 1992
  16. "THREATS AND RESPONSES: THE CONGRESSIONAL RESOLUTION; LAWMAKERS BEGIN PUSH TO GIVE BUSH AUTHORITY ON IRAQ," by Alison Mitchell, The New York Times, October 4, 2002
  17. Jim Doyle, Five members of Congress arrested over Sudan protest, San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 2006. Accessed September 25, 2006.
  18. (Press release)
  19. Congressman Tom Lantos to Complete his Congressional Service at the End of Current Term
  20. CQ Politics | California Dems Expected to Vie for Lantos Seat
  21. Inside Bay Area - Lantos endorses Speier as 'our best candidate'
  22. - Rep. Tom Lantos of California dies at 80
  23. http://www.nndb.com/group/640/000168136/
  24. Jewish Telegraph Agency - Bush awards Lantos freedom medal
  25. http://www.sindhtoday.net/news/1/57945.htm
  26. George Lardner, Jr, Panel Sputters; Immunity Vote Fails, The Washington Post, May 14, 1998. Accessed September 11, 1997.
  27. Jackie Kucinich, In trouble with the law: run-ins with police are fact of Capitol life, The Hill, May 11, 2006. Accessed Feb. 15 2008.
  28. Akiva Eldar, They're jumping in head first Ha'aretz, September 30, 2002
  29. Ben Terrall, Tom Lantos' Big Lie: The Pro-War Congressman Calls for Replacing Saddam with a Pro-West "Dictator" CounterPunch, October 25, 2002
  30. US Lawmaker's "Prostitute" Remarks Provokes Germany | Germany | Deutsche Welle | 13.06.2007
  31. The Associated Press, Senior US Democratic lawmaker offends Dutch counterparts with historical remarks, International Herald Tribune, October 27, 2007. Accessed October 27, 2007.


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