Apologies and a low profile mark Trey Radel’s first week back in Congress

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U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, in his first few days back at his job, started the week by keeping a low profile.

Although he voted daily, according to Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Naples Daily News, Radel was rarely seen on the House floor with colleagues.

Once a notoriously prolific tweeter, Radel’s Twitter account fell silent. His office door remained closed, as other offices in the Longworth House Office Building opened while Congress returned to work.

The 37-year-old Republican from Fort Myers resumed his job Tuesday after two months of leave resulting from a guilty plea for cocaine possession Nov. 19.

A Bit Overwhelming

“I’ve been overwhelmed by emotion because of the way that people have reached out to me and invited me to come to fellowship, prayer breakfasts … to just say ‘hey, come sit with me a minute because I’m glad you’re back,’” Radel told the Daily News last week. “It’s comforting to know I’ve been embraced with open arms, but understanding what I need to do.”

Radel insists he will not step down his House seat, despite frequent calls to resign by a range of Florida Republicans from Gov. Rick Scott to GOP executive committees of both Collier and Lee Counties.

As for keeping his seat, Radel says, “re-election is the absolute last thing” on his mind.

As Buzzacco-Foerster relates Radel’s first few days back on the job, the only thing on his mind so far is getting back to work .

Business As Usual

The theme of Radel’s first week was simple – business as usual.

On Wednesday, Radel attended a weekly Republican summit to develop the next week’s House action, where part of the meeting is devoted to members speaking on any issue they wish.

Radel took his time to apologize to members of his party.

“Today has been really emotional,” he told a local television station Wednesday in the Capitol lobby.

Staff members would not provide a formal schedule, but there were previously scheduled GOP strategy meetings, such as a Florida Republican delegation lunch meeting Thursday.

“Mea Culpa” with Colleagues

After three public apologies — twice in Southwest Florida and once in a brief media statement Tuesday night – Radel began talking to Congress members personally about what transpired in the past few months.

“It feels really good to sit down, and look someone in the eyes to say ‘I’m sorry’ and hear ‘I forgive you, let’s move on,’” Radel told the Daily News.

Although Radel met with members of the Florida delegation, none of them would discuss his return.

Radel also met with House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, based on a “mutual understanding” the two would meet when he returned. Again, he declined to say what was discussed.

“I’ll keep our conversation between us,” Radel said. “But I’ll say this: Speaker Boehner is not a good man — he’s a great man, who has a big heart.”

Radel is being smart by going door-to-door to communicate with members, some experts say, since may see Radel’s problems as casting Congress in a negative light.

“There’s an unwritten rule in Congress: Anyone who disgraces the institution, disgraces all members,” according to Joe Foley, a political consultant based in Washington, D.C. “Anything that distracts them and the important business of Congress is no small issue for colleagues.”

Chris Ingram, a Tampa political consultant, said the welcome Radel will see in the next few weeks will be “tepid at best.”

Ingram does not think there will be “an outpouring of support.”

Moving On, Slowly

No matter how much Radel wants to put the past behind, it may not happen right away.

Radel will face a House Committee Ethics investigative subcommittee formed in December to learn if he broke any House because of his October arrest. The subcommittee could take up to several months.

Radel said he “will work with them and be open” and hired Washington attorney Rob Walker, former staff director for the Senate and House ethics panels.

Walker, who is not an official member of Radel’s staff, comes shortly after broke with his crisis management team of Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh of Singer Bonjean Strategies in Washington, D.C.

“Something I am now proud I can do,” he said, “is reach out and ask for help when I need it.”

A Rehab Support System

Radel has developed a recovery support system, after a month in a Naples voluntary inpatient rehabilitation.

If Radel is serious about rehabilitating his image, Ingram said, he needs to continue “doing the things he’s been doing” including more acts of contrition. However, apologies may not be enough to win re-election if he decides to run.

“He’s done everything textbook,” Ingram told the Daily News. “But you can’t change the facts, and when opponents start running ads about the cocaine congressman, he’s going to be on defense if he seeks re-election, until Election Day.”

Radel hesitated when asked about running for re-election, saying that Thursday he was only “three days back.”

“My priorities in life are God and family, and on the professional side, restoring normalcy in my own life, which is healthy, and in the process of getting back to what people elected me to do,” the congressman added. “While I have made mistakes in life, and I have my own shortcomings, I am proud of what our team here has accomplished and, I know, that we have more to offer.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.