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Lautenberg Legacy Bill Under Fire by Boxer

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Boxer, in a phone interview with CQ Roll Call, acknowledged having conversations with senators about the bill but said she never argued that Lautenberg hadn’t actually signed off on it nor that he wasn’t capable of doing so.

“I have no idea [if Lautenberg signed off] because I have no idea about how this bill was written because I wasn’t involved and only knew about it when I read about it in the papers,” Boxer said.

David Vitter could tell you how involved Frank Lautenberg was,” she said. “I would never say that Frank signed off on it or not signed off on it because I was not involved so I wouldn’t know.”

Multiple sources close to the negotiations say Lautenberg was engaged throughout the process.

These sources also maintain that, at various points since Lautenberg’s death, Boxer and her committee staff director, Bettina Poirier, have approached other senators and aides about Lautenberg’s state of mind when he signed off on the bill. Poirier has been more active than her boss in campaigning against the Lautenberg-Vitter compromise, according to people who are familiar with the lobbying.

Manchin, who helped bridge the gaps between Lautenberg and Vitter, told CQ Roll Call that Lautenberg was engaged in the process.

“He was involved, and I saw him the last time he was on the floor and thanked him after the agreement had been reached,” Manchin said. “I’m hoping that [Boxer] is going to be able to look at all the work that’s been done. Every senator dedicates an awful lot of their energy toward certain, specific projects, and this is one Frank has been on for many years. So he had a great deal of knowledge, his staff had a great deal of knowledge. They worked on it.”

A picture posted to Lautenberg’s Facebook page on the day of bill’s announcement shows him and Vitter, the top Republican on the committee, on a couch talking, Lautenberg with a document in hand.

Aides to Lautenberg declined comment for this story. But advocates of improved chemical safety laws have argued the issue would be one of his most lasting legacies. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Mother Jones after Lautenberg died that, “Perhaps his most enduring achievement was to help inform and protect the public from the harm of toxic chemicals, including creating the nation’s toxic right-to-know law, establishing the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and pushing for greater security at chemical plants.”

Boxer said she told Lautenberg’s staff that the committee would work on a chairman’s mark, but sources close to the panel said her staff has essentially shut out Lautenberg’s legislative team. Aides to Lautenberg have 60 days on the general Senate payroll after his death before they are no longer employees of the Senate.

“I think we will work off that bill, but I can’t tell you for sure,” Boxer said when asked if the Lautenberg-Vitter measure would serve as the base text moving forward.

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