Posted: 9:46 pm Thursday, December 8th, 2016
By Jamie Dupree
As the U.S. House left town for the year on Thursday afternoon, it was a bittersweet day for many lawmakers who were wrapping up their careers in the Congress, as they said goodbye to friends, co-workers and colleagues and looked back with a smile at their time on Capitol Hill.
“I won’t miss the circus, but I will miss the clowns,” chuckled retiring Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), who did not run for re-election after 16 years in the House.
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” Crenshaw told me with his trademark wry smile on his face. “But I leave with a great sense of accomplishment.”
“All in all it’s been an incredible experience.”
Just over from where we sat in the Speaker’s Lobby, the logs were crackling in the fireplace; retiring Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) sat there intently reading the newspaper, pulling his chair closer to the fire for what might be a final time as a member of Congress.
In that same chair a little earlier, retiring Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) was all smiles on his last day of real legislative work.
“You’re going to hear me clicking my heels!” Rigell said excitedly.
Asked by another GOP lawmaker what he was going to do in the future, Rigell cited a Christmas journal entry by President John Adams.
“At home. Thinking,” Rigell said.
Out on the House floor, lawmakers were publicly noting some of their colleagues who won’t be back for the 115th Congress in January.
“The gentleman and I don’t agree on many issues, but I think all of us agree that he’s been an outstanding member of the Congress,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) said of the retiring Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA).
“We’re going to miss you,” Rogers said to Farr. “Thank you for serving.”
Twenty minutes later, the applause was for Rogers, who was wrapping up six years as Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
“Thank you all for your collaboration, your consideration, and your companionship,” Rogers said, with a hint of emotion in his voice.
Back in the Speaker’s Lobby, I was keeping an eye out for one retiring lawmaker, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), looking for a last interview with him.
But Westmoreland had already headed home.
I checked the voting records, and was somewhat surprised to see that Westmoreland had missed every single vote since the November elections, even though I knew he had been in D.C.
“As crazy as this may sound, I don’t believe in lame duck sessions,” Westmoreland told me in an email, as he said he did all of his hearings and other work, but skipped the November and December floor votes in the House.
“I know it’s crazy, but it’s something I’ve always said and I guess when it actually happened to me I had to either truly believe it or not,” Westmoreland explained.
Later in the afternoon, I was back as the House held its final series of votes. The Speaker’s Lobby was jammed with reporters, many of us trying to track down more of those who would be walking off the House floor for a final time.
One of those heading out was Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who offered some simple advice to new lawmakers: Do something out of your comfort zone.
“Find a friend with whom you disagree, and get out of the absolutism that runs this place,” he said.
While we were talking to Israel, I noticed a commotion out on the House floor behind him – just on the other side of the door, veteran Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was casting his final vote.
He was first elected in 1970.
Rangel posed with his voting card in the machine, while other members of the Congressional Black Caucus took photos – even though that’s not allowed on the floor of the House.
Now that the final House vote of 2016 was underway, lawmakers poured through the doors and headed for the exits.
I shook hands with Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), whom I covered for a radio station in Los Angeles when he was elected as a freshman in 1992.
His next job is Attorney General of California.
But there were also some lawmakers walking out who had wanted to stay on in Congress, but had been rejected by the voters just a month ago.
“For me, to have the opportunity to serve for over two decades, has just been unbelievable,” said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who lost his re-election bid in November.
When I started work on Capitol Hill in 1980, Mica’s brother was in Congress; Dan Mica (a Democrat) left after the 1988 elections. John Mica (a Republican) was elected four years later, and I covered his entire career in the House.
As we finished our short chat off the House floor, you could hear the emotion welling up in Mica’s voice. We shook hands one more time and said thanks.
The Congressman took a few steps and then offered one final thought.
“Take care,” Mica said.
“Take care of your family.”
With his coat folded over his arm, the Florida Republican walked down the hall and got in the Members Only elevator.
His 24 years in Congress had come to a close.