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Lautenberg's Widow Pushed Back Against Boxer on Chemical Safety Bill

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
The fight over Lautenberg’s toxic chemical bill has gotten deeply personal. His widow has called Boxer to advocate for the legislation, according to multiple sources.

The Lautenberg staffer’s email to the environmental groups, which also was sent to legislative aides of the nine Democratic co-sponsors of the bill, stated that the groups’ original remarks were “deeply insulting” and said they owed “a public apology to his widow and family.”

“You have crossed a serious line in your last statement that you circulated this morning. The highlighted sentences below presume that you know more about what Senator Lautenberg wanted than he did himself. ... It is pretty clear what he wanted to do and what he thought his legacy should be. Your statement is fundamentally insulting to him, his memory and his family — moreover a statement released less than a week after he was buried,” the staffer’s email read.

It continued: “I would step back and take a moment to think through your message on this and send an apology and a retraction of this part of your statement. I know most of you personally and am surprised that you would put this out — it’s not in keeping with your characters. It is a new low and deeply insulting to a man who some of you worked for and championed causes and legislation that you supported for nearly 30 years. In my view, a public apology to his widow and family is in order.”

Lautenberg’s office later confirmed that it received an apology from the environmental coalition.

The back-and-forth with the outside groups was a microcosm for the larger battle over the approach Boxer’s staff took to squashing the bipartisan bill, according to a source familiar with the events. By lobbying these groups against the bill, this source said, Boxer’s staff could then arm the chairwoman with a narrative that environmental groups opposed it on the grounds that Lautenberg did not sign off on his own agreement.

Manchin — who helped bridge the gaps between Lautenberg and Vitter — had a heated conversation on the Senate floor with Boxer about the bill, with Boxer challenging the contents of the legislation and accusing the sponsors of not knowing what they were signing off on, according to a source with knowledge of the exchange. A second source confirmed the exchange.

Both Manchin and Boxer said they have a good relationship.

“We may have a difference of approach of where we’re coming from but we’ve always been able to work, no problem at all,” Manchin said. “It’s never been contentious.”

Boxer said in a statement: “Not only are Joe Manchin and I very good friends, we are working together and he will be one of the leadoff witnesses at our hearing.”

Manchin said he was not previously aware of an invitation to speak at the hearing, which Boxer said would happen in July.

Multiple sources tracking the legislation said that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had agreed to champion the legislation in Lautenberg’s absence; neither she nor her office were available for comment Wednesday. Gillibrand is both a member of the EPW committee and a co-sponsor of the Lautenberg-Vitter bill.

Vitter also declined to comment, directing CQ Roll Call to a press aide.

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