Sen. Frank Lautenberg dead at 89

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), 89, died Monday morning after serving in Congress for more than 30 years.

According to his office, Lautenberg died of viral pneumonia. He was the oldest member of the Senate and had recently missed several weeks of votes because of illness.

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Lautenberg’s death will narrow the Senate Democratic majority to 54 seats, making it more difficult for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) to marshal 60 votes on controversial legislation.

The loss comes at an inopportune time for Democrats, shortly before the biggest legislative initiative of the session, comprehensive immigration reform, reaches the floor this month.

Democrats, however, have been operating for weeks without Lautenberg, who missed dozens of votes because of illness. He made a dramatic appearance on the Senate floor in April to vote for expanded background checks for gun sales. Prior to that, he had not cast a vote since late February, and he has not been seen on the Senate floor since.

Senate GOP aides expect New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to appoint a Republican, and the possibilities include Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., who ran against Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezThe Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump MORE (D-N.J.) in 2006 and attorney Bill Palatucci, a longtime friend and adviser to Christie.

According to New Jersey election law, Christie may appoint a replacement to temporarily fill Lautenberg's seat until a special election occurs to elect someone to serve out the remainder of Lautenberg's term.

Christie may set the date of the special election. It's unclear whether he'll choose to schedule it on the same day as the gubernatorial and state legislative elections on Nov. 5.

Setting the special on the same date as the upcoming gubernatorial election could give a boost to a Republican candidate from Christie's coattails, as he's running far ahead of the Democratic candidate for governor and is expected to easily defeat her.

Lautenberg had announced earlier this year that he was not going to seek reelection in 2014. He served on the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as the Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Environment and Public Works committees.

Lautenberg was the last World War II veteran serving in the U.S. Senate and held the record for the number of votes cast by a New Jersey Senator with more than 9,000. Some of his signature legislative issues were gun control, G.I. benefits and chemical safety.

In a statement, President Obama said Lautenberg had "improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation’s health and safety, from improving our public transportation to protecting citizens from gun violence to ensuring that members of our military and their families get the care they deserve."

Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised Lautenberg’s service and collegiality.

“From his work to prevent gun violence, to ending smoking on planes, to his commitment to protect families from dangerous chemicals, Frank Lautenberg was a champion for the underserved and underrepresented," Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems urge White House not to roll back free birth control rule Overnight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Sanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill MORE (D-Wash.) said Monday. “Frank was a passionate public servant who was not afraid to fight and vote for what he believed in. He loved the Senate."

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE said Lautenberg's death was a blow to the body. 

“The Senate’s last remaining World War II veteran, Frank was a patriot whose success in business and politics made him a great American success story and a standout, even within the fabled Greatest Generation," he said.

“It was with great sadness I learned of Senator Lautenberg’s passing,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Overnight Cybersecurity: Bad Russian intel may have swayed Comey's handling of Clinton probe | Apple sees spike in data requests | More subpoenas for Flynn | DOJ's plan for data warrants Overnight Finance: GOP bill would leave 23M more uninsured, says CBO | Trump aides defend budget | Mnuchin asks for clean debt hike before August | Ryan says House could pass bill without border tax MORE (R-S.C.). “He was a fine man who served his nation honorably in World War II. He was a true gentleman who will be missed by his family, friends and colleagues in the United States Senate.”

“One night early on in my time in the Senate, we were here very late voting, and Frank graciously invited me to dinner. It was the first time I got to see not ‘Senator Lautenberg,’ but ‘Frank,’ just hanging out, telling stories and jokes, and being an engaging, positive and just inspiring person,” recalled Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsDOJ pitches agreements to solve international data warrant woes Overnight Defense: Trump hits back over special counsel | US bombs pro-Assad forces | GOP chairman unveils proposed Pentagon buying reforms Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise MORE (D-Del.). “He will certainly be missed.”

“Whether it was his landmark drunk driving law, the 21st Century G.I. Bill, or the “Toxic Right to Know” law empowering the public to know what pollutants are being released into their neighborhood, he was a fighter for New Jersey’s working families and the causes he believed in,” added Menendez, who has worked with Lautenberg representing New Jersey in the Senate since 2006.

Lautenberg retired from the Senate in 2000, but ran again in 2002 after Sen. Bob Torricelli (D) withdrew from the race because of ethics violations.

This story was published at 9:52 a.m. and has been updated.

Alexander Bolton and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this story.