Lawmaker Says He Has Cancer And Will Not Run for Reelection

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who became the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced yesterday that he has cancer and will not run for reelection in November.

Lantos, who will turn 80 on Feb. 1, said a routine medical test last month revealed that he has cancer of the esophagus. The nature of the illness and the treatment it will require persuaded him to retire at year's end.

"It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress," Lantos said in a statement. "I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country."

Elected in 1980, the Hungarian-born Californian has used his remarkable biography as much as his political stature to advance the cause of human rights and to become one of Congress's leading voices on foreign policy. Lantos was 16 when Nazi forces occupied his native Budapest and began rounding up Jews. He escaped a forced labor camp, only to be captured and beaten before escaping again to a safe house protected by famed Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

During much of World War II, Lantos moved about Budapest in a military cadet's uniform, procuring food for other Jews in hiding. A 1947 scholarship brought him to the United States and eventually California, where he earned a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley before settling in as an economics professor at San Francisco State University.

A champion of Israel as well as international human rights, Lantos has traveled from North Korea to Iraq to Syria. His sharp tongue has at times drawn rebukes from Republicans, but he worked closely for much of this decade with the late Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who chaired the House Committee on International Relations before the Democratic electoral sweep of 2006.

Lantos helped craft the 2002 resolution that authorized war with Iraq, proclaiming: "Had the United States and its allies confronted Hitler earlier, had we acted sooner to stymie his evil designs, the 51 million lives needlessly lost during that war could have been saved."

Since then, he has turned strongly against the Iraq war and the Bush administration's prosecution of it, helping House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) devise her so-far fruitless strategy to force a change of course.

"It is with great personal sadness and deep appreciation for his outstanding leadership that I learned of Chairman Lantos' illness," Pelosi said in a statement. "His experience, intelligence and compassion will be deeply missed."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), the Foreign Affairs Committee's ranking Republican, said, "Tom's decision to leave Congress will be deeply felt by his colleagues who value his wisdom, expertise and good judgment."

Lantos expects to remain a vigorous committee chairman throughout his final year, said spokeswoman Lynne A. Weil. He plans to chair hearings on Pakistan later this month and hopes to summon Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before his committee within weeks to defend her budget request for 2009.

The two members in line to succeed Lantos, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), have served similar terms on the committee, raising the possibility of a contest for the chairmanship.

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