Policy

Radel Exits Rehab, Plans Return to Congress (Updated)

Updated 6:53 p.m. | Rep. Trey Radel has left rehab and is ready to return to Capitol Hill, the Florida Republican announced in a news conference in his district office on Thursday night.

He didn't, however, divulge whether he was prepared to announce whether he would seek re-election for a second term.

The freshman lawmaker called it "the last thing on my mind right now," adding, "I don't have a time frame for when I'll decide."

Radel has been in rehab since Nov. 21, and the Thursday briefing with reporters was his first public appearance since right before that date. The leave of absence from Congress came on the heels of revelations in November that Radel was arrested in late October for possession of cocaine.

Since then, his case has become something of a sideshow in Washington, D.C., in his district and around the country. Some top Florida GOP officials have called for his resignation; the House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it would open a formal investigation; and his arrest has been an unwelcome distraction for leadership.

"[Speaker John A.] Boehner suggested I go get the help I need," Radel said. "I hope to show those who supported me, or may have called for my resignation, that I have been getting through this on a day-by-day basis."

But on Thursday, Radel emphasized that his issue had never been with cocaine, but with alcohol, and he had only used the drug "a handful of times."

"I've been treated for the disease of alcoholism. Alcohol is my issue," he said.

"It was selfishly fun but it became a problem when it came to poor choices and ... missed opportunities," Radel said of his drinking problem. While it didn't interfere with his congressional activities, he said, it "chipped away at my relationship with my wife, my child and God."

Radel has a 2-year-old son.

As for why he waited so long between the time of his arrest and public revelations about the incident, Radel suggested he was listening to the advice of his attorneys.

"I knew this day was gonna come," he said.

The rehab center at which he sought treatment, he said, has provided him with "a step-by-step program and a rediscovery of faith, family and God that I have lost over the years, to focus on what's important."

At one point, he compared his wake-up call was like "God was kicking me in the shins."

Radel appeared before the cameras on Thursday in a suit and tie. He stood beside his wife, Amy, who said her husband was "awesome" and spoke passionately about his commitment to making a full recovery — but wouldn't say when or how she learned about his addiction issues or his use of cocaine.

He said he prided himself as one of the most accessible lawmakers in Washington and, to that end, he would answer as many questions as journalists had to ask.

During those exchanges with reporters, which didn't last particularly long, the lawmaker would not identify who was with him at the time of his arrest but emphasized it was a "private person," not a public official, lobbyist or congressional staffer.

He said he was never drunk or high while voting on the House floor, and he promised to cooperate fully with the Ethics Committee.