In 1983, Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Edward Porter (R-IL) founded the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC). The CHRC was dedicated to the defense of all rights codified in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the end of the 106th Congress, Congressman Porter retired from Congress and Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) assumed his responsibilities as the Republican Co-Chairman of the Caucus.
After the death of founding CHRC Co-Chairman Tom Lantos on February 11, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appointed Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA) as Democratic CHRC Co-Chairman, joining Republican CHRC Co-Chair Wolf. On the Speaker’s initiative to institutionalize the CHRC as a full entity in the House of Representatives, the House unanimously adopted H. Res. 1451, the “Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Establishment Resolution,” on September 24, 2008. Pursuant to H. Res. 1451, the Speaker and the Minority Leader appointed Rep. James P. McGovern and Rep. Frank R. Wolf as Commission Co-Chairmen for the remainder of the 110th Congress.
In March 2009, the Speaker and the Minority Leader of the House reappointed both Congressmen McGovern and Wolf as Co-Chairmen for the 111th Congress (2009-2010). Both Congressmen were subsequently reappointed for the 112th (2011-2012) and 113th (2013-2014) Congresses. After Rep. Wolf’s retirement at the end of 2014, Congressman Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) was named by the Speaker as the new Republican Co-Chairman for the 114th Congress (2015-2016). Rep. McGovern was reappointed as the Democratic Co-Chairman.
Also pursuant to H. Res. 1451, for each Congress and upon the recommendation of the Co-Chairmen, the Speaker and Minority Leader confirm the appointment of eight Members of Congress to the Commission’s Executive Committee.
The Commission is named in honor of the life and legacy of the late Congressman Thomas Peter Lantos (D-CA). Mr. Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in the U.S. Congress (1980 – 2008). He was born in Budapest, Hungary, where as a teenager he was sent to a forced labor camp by the German Nazi occupying military. He escaped the labor camp and sought refuge with an aunt who lived in a safe house operated by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who used his official status and power to issue visas to save thousands of Hungarian Jews. Mr. Lantos quickly joined the anti-Nazi resistance. After the Soviet Union liberated Budapest in 1945, Mr. Lantos tried to locate his mother and family members, but he gradually came to realize that they had all perished in the Holocaust.
In 1947, Mr. Lantos came to the United States to study on a Hillel Foundation Scholarship. He earned his B.A. in 1949 and his M.A. in economics in 1950 from the University of Washington in Seattle. Three years later he received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He subsequently served as a foreign policy commentator on television and as a senior advisor to several U.S. Senators.
In 1980, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 12th District of California. Throughout his congressional career, Congressman Lantos dedicated all of his efforts to raising awareness and respect for human rights around the world and became a leading human rights champion in the Congress. In 1983, he co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus with then-Congressman John Edward Porter (R-IL). After serving 27 years on the U.S. House Committee of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lantos was appointed Chairman of the Committee during the 110th Congress.
Among his many human rights accomplishments, Mr. Lantos was the first U.S. government official to issue a formal invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to attend a formal meeting of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the U.S. Congress in 1987, an initiative that opened and deepened the congressional relationship with His Holiness. In addition, Mr. Lantos and his wife, Mrs. Annette Lantos, were dedicated to the promotion of the heroic work of Swedish Diplomat Raul Wallenberg, who saved countless lives during the Holocaust in Hungary by issuing "protective passports," declaring the bearer to be a citizen of neutral Sweden.
In January 2008, upon announcing his retirement, Mr. Lantos said: “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. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.”
Congressman Lantos died on February 11th, 2008, at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland.