WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced on Wednesday that he will not seek re-election this year because he has cancer of the esophagus.
Lantos, 79, is the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress and is known for his dedication to human rights issues. He is serving his 14th term, after joining the House in 1981.
"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."
According to his statement, "routine medical tests" revealed the cancer. It did not provide additional details.
Lantos was born in Budapest, Hungary. In 1944, as a teenager, he was sent to a labor camp but eventually escaped. Three years later, he came to the United States on an academic scholarship.
He is married to Annette, his childhood sweetheart. The couple has two daughters, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
If Democrats retain control of the House after this fall's elections, the next in line to assume control of the Foreign Affairs Committee would be Rep. Howard Berman, also a California Democrat. Like Lantos, Berman was a strong supporter of the Iraq invasion but has since voted to bring troops home.
If Republicans took control of the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., would likely become chairwoman.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she learned of Lantos' illness with "great personal sadness and deep appreciation for his outstanding leadership."
"His experience, intelligence, and compassion will be deeply missed," said Pelosi, D-Calif.