WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg was back in the Capitol for the second time since February this afternoon, but he didn’t answer questions from reporters.
Lautenberg, a Democrat, voted at a committee hearing to help break an impasse on President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy. He was wheeled in by an aide and did not speak during the 15-minute hearing, other than to say “aye,” helping Democrats advance the stalled nomination.
Still in a wheelchair, Lautenberg was warmly greeted by fellow senators, who clasped him in the shoulders and warmly shook his hand.
“It is a joyful experience to see your beautiful face here,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. She kissed him on the cheek he was brought into the room.
After Lautenberg voted, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) nodded warmly to him. In the audience, Lautenberg’s wife, Bonnie, snapped photos.
But Lautenberg did not respond to reporters’ questions afterwards. As he was wheeled toward a Senators only elevator, his wife and then Sens. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) and Max Baucus (D. Mont.) brusquely stepped between Lautenberg and the press, seeming to shield him as reporters asked questions.
Lautenberg has spoken to reporters only once since February, briefly answering questions after a vote in April
“He seemed perky and happy to be here and, you know, I’d like him to stay,” Boxer said after the hearing. “He just seems very happy to be here, to be contributing his vote to this wonderful nominee. Sen. Lautenberg has a lot of signature issues, one of them is a clean and healthy environment so for him it was really a great opportunity to be a part of the coalition that says let’s get on with the work protecting the health of the American people.”
A Lautenberg aide said Boxer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) spoke directly with Lautenberg last week when it became clear that his vote would be needed. With Republican boycotting previous hearings, Democrats could not advance McCarthy without Lautenberg’s help.
He has been largely absent from the senate since February, returning only one day in April to vote in favor of tougher gun laws. Lautenberg is dealing with leg pain and fatigue, according to his staff.