From the White House to Capitol Hill to the Garden State, lawmakers mourned the loss of Rep. Donald Payne, a New Jersey congressman who was the Congressional Black Caucus’ go-to member when it came to foreign affairs.
Payne, who served as CBC chair, died at the age of 77 Tuesday at New Jersey’s St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Payne was a senior member of the House of Representatives, elected in 1988, and served a district that includes parts of New Jersey that includes Newark, Essex, Hudson and Union counties.
In the House chamber, members stood for a moment of silence Tuesday to honor Payne. The House halted its business for members to eulogize Payne on the House floor later. President Barack Obama paid his respect at the White House Tuesday morning.
“Don went on to become the first African-American congressman to represent the state of New Jersey,” Obama said. “In Washington, he made it his mission to fight for working families, increase the minimum wage, ensure worker safety, guarantee affordable health care and improve the educational system.”
But Payne earned praise throughout his congressional career for his work on international affairs. He was one of the few black lawmakers to sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Unlike most black lawmakers, who eschew getting involved in foreign affairs because they feel it doesn’t reap immediate benefits for their constituents, Payne eagerly dived into the subject.
He talked about the genocide in Rwanda and the murderous situation in Darfur before it became cool to talk about it – or before other lawmakers became concerned about the situations.
“He was a leader in US-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent,” Obama said. “Don will be missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Newark Mayor Cory Booker described Payne as “a humble hero who lived an extraordinary life of contribution and distinction” and “a defender of and advocate for the rights, liberties, equal opportunities, and dignity of all people.”
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