Rep. Donald Payne, battling colon cancer, flown back to New Jersey

Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) has been flown back to New Jersey on a medical transport plane, less than a month after he disclosed he is battling colon cancer.

Payne’s condition has deteriorated in recent days, and members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation are traveling to see him “to say their goodbyes,” said a Democratic aide with knowledge of the situation.

“We hope for a miracle, but we’re preparing for the worst,” the aide said.

Payne spokeswoman Amirah Salaam confirmed that Payne, 77, has been transported to New Jersey, but would not divulge details about his condition.

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His son, Donald Payne Jr., told the Newark Star-Ledger on Friday, “We're still a bit optimistic, but I mean, you know, it is what it is. It's cancer.” The younger Payne is president of the Newark City Council.

Payne is serving in his 12th term after first winning election to represent the 10th congressional district in 1988. He has not voted in the House since Feb. 9, a day before he announced he was being treated for colon cancer. At the time, he said his doctors expected him to make a full recovery.

But by Wednesday of this week, it had become clear that his health was worsening quickly, the aide said.

"It doesn't look good at all," said another Democratic staffer.

After Payne announced his illness Feb. 10, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), of which Payne is a member, distributed a "Dear Colleague" letter asking lawmakers for their thoughts and prayers.

Before returning to New Jersey Friday, Payne was hospitalized in Washington, where a steady stream of CBC members visited, including Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who was "at his bed three or four times in the last week," according to a source familiar with those visits. 

A 24-year veteran of Capitol Hill, Payne is the senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee's sub-panel on Africa, and his interest in U.S.-Africa relations almost got him killed during a 2009 visit to Somalia.

Leaving Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, Payne became the target of Islamic militants who fired mortar rounds at his plane, according to The New York Times report on the incident. Ten people were injured in the attack; Payne was not among them.

“We fired on the airport to target the so-called Democratic congressman sent by Obama,” said a spokesman for the group behind the attack, the Times reported. “Let him go back with the message of our strength and enmity towards the U.S. and its allies."

Obama had warned Payne against taking the trip, the Times reported. 

— Mike Lillis contributed.

Updated at 5:43 p.m.