Andrews casts last votes, praises 'far from perfect' Congress

The Democrat's last day on the job is Feb. 18, but Congress is out next week.
The Democrat's last day on the job is Feb. 18, but Congress is out next week.
Posted: February 13, 2014

WASHINGTON - After more than 23 years, the abrupt end to U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews' time in Washington came even faster than expected.

With a snowstorm bearing down on the mid-Atlantic, the House voted a day early to raise the nation's borrowing limit and rushed out of Washington Tuesday, making the day Andrews' last in the Capitol while representing South Jersey.

The Democrat's last day on the job is next Tuesday, but Congress is out next week, and Wednesday's votes were called off as the looming storm produced what negotiations, strong-arming, and pleading rarely do: swift, decisive action.

Shortly after 5 p.m., Andrews cast the last votes of his tenure - one to raise the debt ceiling, and another for the Small Cap Liquidity Reform Act (it passed, 412-4). He stunned the political world Feb. 3 by announcing his resignation.

As he exited, Andrews praised the divided and rowdy House, making him part of the 12 percent or so of Americans (according to polls) who still hold the body in high regard.

"There's a lot of problems and the Congress is far from perfect, but I think this institution, for all of its unseemliness, has worked," he said in an interview. "The people who work here do more for the country than they're given credit for."

He backed up his premise with his signature mix of storytelling and policy detail, displaying the political talents that friends and critics both acknowledge.

He pointed to the controversial relief bill passed by a Democratic-led House and a Republican administration at the height of the 2008 economic crisis. "Bipartisan cooperation that actually worked," he said.

He wove in statistics, saying the government now borrows $11 for every $100 it spends, compared to $37.50 per $100 at the height of the crisis.

"The Congress has many things that could be better," he said, "but I know the people who work here love the country."

And he managed a final jab as House leaders agreed, for once, to put up a "clean" debt-ceiling vote without the demands they have insisted on in the past - and that tea party conservatives still wanted.

"Republicans had their regularly scheduled implosion," Andrews said.

His political skill and intelligence, though, fueled the frustration of his critics, some of whom saw a talented politician concerned primarily with himself. There was scant praise from the New Jersey delegation when he announced his exit. Most just bit their tongues.

Others questioned the timing. An ethics investigation has hovered over Andrews as the House examined his use of campaign funds for family trips.

He says he followed all the rules. The House ethics committee investigation will end when he leaves office.

Andrews, 56, called Tuesday "a fairly normal day," though he said goodbye to about 100 colleagues and read a classified briefing on leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden - the kind of document Andrews won't have access to after he leaves office.

He gets to keep his congressional pin and his electronic voting card, which he used to register his House votes.

In March, he'll move through the revolving door to lead the public affairs team at the Philadelphia law firm Dilworth Paxson. As a former congressman, he'll have special privileges when it comes to traveling the Capitol's corridors.

Andrews said he would spend his last days in office placing calls on behalf of constituent requests he might be able to expedite.

His staff, which will stay until a replacement is elected in November, will keep working on 5,700 open requests.

In the morning, Andrews gave a farewell speech, taking about 51/2 minutes to thank family and staff, and defend the unpopular institution where he has worked for more than two decades.

Where others see divisiveness, Andrews said in his speech, he sees passionate debate that he called "the elixir of American democracy."

"May this place never lose the strong convictions of people right and left. ... It's what makes democracy go," Andrews said.

Won't he miss the job? "Of course I will." But he has said his new job will help pay for his two daughters' educations. "I love the Congress," he said, "but I love my family more."


jtamari@phillynews.com

@JonathanTamari

www.inquirer.com/capitolinq

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