TRENTON, N.J. — Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, the oldest member of the Senate, announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his current term rather than seek reelection at age 90 next year.
‘‘This is not the end of anything but rather the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals, and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey,’’ Lautenberg said in a statement.
President Obama called Lautenberg a steadfast champion of the people of New Jersey.
‘‘Throughout his time in the Senate, Frank has fought tirelessly for workers, veterans, members of our military and their families, and immigrants, and he continues to make extraordinary contributions to our nation’s safety, and the health and welfare of our citizens,’’ the president said in a statement.
The New Jersey Democrat has been a staunch advocate of gun control and public infrastructure and a champion of the Amtrak railroad system.
Lautenberg, who turned 89 last month and is the Senate’s last World War II veteran, was facing growing pressure to step down. Though he has been easily elected five times in a state that has not sent a Republican to the Senate in 40 years, he was facing a likely Democratic primary challenge from charismatic Newark Mayor Cory Booker. No Republicans have publicly expressed interest in the seat.
Lautenberg has had health problems in recent years. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and was successfully treated, and a case of the flu this winter caused him to miss the Senate’s vote on avoiding the fiscal cliff of rising taxes and falling government spending. But he has beaten back health problems before — and a primary opponent who suggested he was too old for the job.
Lautenberg first won election to the Senate in 1982. He was set to travel on Friday to his hometown, Paterson, to announce his retirement.
In 2008, Representative Rob Andrews challenged Lautenberg in a Democratic primary, but Andrews fell well short of unseating him. More recently, however, some within the party noted that if he were to die in office, Republican Governor Chris Christie would get to name a temporary successor.
GOP takes dim view of Democrats effort on cuts
WASHINGTON — A new plan by Senate Democrats to head off severe spending cuts in two weeks met an icy reception from Republicans on Thursday, as administration officials stepped forward to lay out the biting consequences that could come if no deal is reached soon: thousands of air traffic controllers sidelined, the on-and-off idling of meat plants nationwide, slashed food aid and nutrition education for low-income women and children, locked gates at wildlife refuges, 10,000 laid-off teachers, and much more.
As part of their solution to the impasse, Democrats are proposing a minimum tax on the wealthy, a nonstarter with the GOP, as well as cuts to much criticized farm subsidies and more gradual reductions in the Pentagon budget than would happen if the automatic cuts, known as sequester, kick in. Republicans vowed to kill the Democratic legislation encompassing the plan when a vote is called the week of Feb. 25, just days before the across-the-board cuts would start to affect government operations and the economy.