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Lautenberg returns to Senate for gun votes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey returned to the Senate on Wednesday after being absent for more than six weeks.

The nation's oldest senator, 89, was in a wheelchair on Wednesday as he cast his first vote since Feb. 28 to a smattering of applause from fellow Democrats.

He has been sidelined with pain and weakness in his legs after a bout with the flu and bronchitis in late December and January. His doctor had advised him not to travel in recent weeks as he worked to rebuild his strength.

A longtime advocate of gun control, Lautenberg returned to Washington for a key series of votes, including his vote in favor of a proposal to expand background checks of gun purchases.

"It was really uplifting and inspiring to see him back," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who has teamed up with Lautenberg on gun control proposals. "It was fabulous not only to see him, but to see him smiling and cracking jokes. He's the same old Frank."

As the Senate voted on a series of amendments, Lautenberg was animated as chatted with other lawmakers. Colleagues greeted him with handshakes, pats on the back and warm smiles.

Lautenberg said in February he would retire next year and not seek re-election. He first won election to the Senate in 1982.

He was diagnosed in February 2010 with B-cell lymphoma of the stomach and underwent chemotherapy treatments until he was declared in June 2010 to be free of cancer. Lautenberg worked between the treatments. The diagnosis came just days after the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., which made Lautenberg the oldest member of the Senate.

Lautenberg got into politics after building a fortune as a founder of Automatic Data Processing.

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