WASHINGTON -- Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who might face a 2014 primary challenge from Newark Mayor Cory Booker, said his fellow Democrat is "entitled" to run if he chooses to but suggested that he had to give a "spanking" to his potential rival for so openly coveting his seat.
Booker has already formed a 2014 campaign committee, prompting anonymous Lautenberg aides to rip the mayor to Politico, accusing him of being "disrespectful." I asked Lautenberg about that characterization this afternoon.
"I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate.
Lautenberg, who turns 89 on Wednesday, would not say if he intends to run for another six-year term in 2014.
"I've got a lot of work to do yet, serious things and we pride ourselves (in) my office and my team (on) getting things done. That's the focus. I'm not thinking about the politics right now," Lautenberg said.
He would not give a timetable for when he might make up his mind.
Booker has said he is mulling a run, but has not committed to challenging Lautenberg. He dodged questions on the issue Sunday night at the New Jersey State Society inaugural gala.
Booker might have competition for the job, Lautenberg said.
"He's entitled to do it," Lautenberg said of a possible Booker candidacy. "He'll have to stand on his record and I'm sure he won't be a lone soldier out there drooling at the mouth and wanting this cushy job that we have here."
Lautenberg had been absent from Washington for several weeks, missing votes on the fiscal cliff and Sandy relief. He said he had a case of the flu that turned into "a severe case of bronchitis."
On Tuesday he was walking with a cane, but said he didn't need it.
"It adds cachet," he joked.