Rare Blood Disease Kills Rep. Robert Matsui

U.S. Rep. Robert Matsui of California, a top Democrat in Congress re-elected overwhelmingly in November to a 14th two-year term, has died of a rare blood disorder, his office said on Sunday. He was 63.

Matsui recently contracted the illness and died late on Saturday at Bethesda Naval Hospital surrounded by family, his office said in a statement.

“Bob wanted me to express his most profound gratitude to all of those he had the honor to serve and who made his life so extraordinary,” said his wife, Doris Matsui, in the statement.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Matsui spent time as an infant with his family and other Japanese-Americans in World War II internment camps.

In 1988, Matsui helped shepherd the Japanese-American Redress Act through Congress, in which the government formally apologized for the World War II internment program and offered token compensation to victims.

President Bush said he was saddened by the death of the longtime congressman who had been admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. “Bob Matsui was a dedicated public servant and a good and decent man who served with distinction and integrity,” Bush said in a statement.

First elected to Congress in 1978 in his hometown of Sacramento, Matsui was returned to office in every election since, most recently by more than 70 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 contest.

Matsui was the third-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and the top Democrat on the panel’s Social Security Subcommittee.

He also served the past two years as head of the House Democratic campaign committee but failed to help his party win back control of the House from Republicans. When the 109th Congress convenes on Tuesday, Republicans will hold 232 of the 435 House seats.

A special election will be held in California’s 5th District to replace Matsui.

His office said that in recent months, Matsui had been battling Milo Dysplastic Disorder, a rare disorder that causes an inability of the bone marrow to produce blood products, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

The disorder leaves the patient at a heightened susceptibility to illness and compromises the ability to fight illness when it occurs, his office said. Matsui entered Bethesda Naval Hospital on Dec. 24 with pneumonia, a complication that developed as a result of his prior illness.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement, “Despite being imprisoned in an internment camp as a very young boy, Bob always had hope in the promise of America.”

“With the passing of Bob Matsui, our country has lost a great leader and America’s seniors have lost their best friend in Congress,” Pelosi said.