Once viewed by some Democrats as a traitor, Rep. Robert Andrews has spent much of the past two years repairing his Caucus relationships and securing a spot in Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s inner circle.
Andrews was largely shunned by the New Jersey delegation — and criticized by many Democrats — for mounting an unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Frank Lautenberg in the New Jersey Democratic primary in 2008. But these days the 11-term Congressman often finds himself at Pelosi’s side and has become one of her most vocal messengers.
Andrews said the 2008 race taught him some valuable lessons and allowed him to put aside his statewide ambitions in favor of a career in the House.
“Losing really hurts, but you learn a lot from it,” Andrews said in a brief interview this week. “You learn what your weaknesses are and you look how to compensate for them, and I hope that I’ve become a better public servant by learning from defeat.”
Pelosi tapped Andrews as one of two Democrats to serve on the Republicans’ transition team last year. And earlier this year, the California Democrat awarded him a slot on the Steering and Policy Committee, an influential panel comprising Pelosi allies, leadership and other top Democrats. In his role, Andrews consults the Caucus on messaging and procedural strategies, and he frequently takes to the floor to tout Democratic priorities.
Democratic aides said Andrews’ standing in the Caucus is far better than after his failed Senate bid. Despite the loss, Andrews was able to retain his House seat by replacing his wife, Camille, on the ballot. Camille Andrews decided to run for her husband’s seat but stepped aside after Andrews lost the Senate primary.
Andrews has spent nearly two decades in the House, yet sources said he doesn’t count many close friends outside Pelosi’s leadership circle. One New Jersey insider said Andrews still has “some hostile” relationships within his delegation.
“He’s certainly the least-liked member of the delegation by a lot, and some of the people really, really can’t stand him. And it’s not just Frank Lautenberg,” the New Jersey source said.
Another Democratic aide said Andrews’ political resurrection stems in part from Pelosi’s decision to add a handful of younger Members to higher-profile roles. After Democrats lost the House and Pelosi decided to stay on as Minority Leader last year, she decided to add a few new faces to the unelected leadership lineup.
“I think her bringing him and [Texas Rep. Henry] Cuellar and [Florida Rep. Debbie] Wasserman Schultz somewhat speaks to their abilities and also speaks to her political situation after this past election,” the aide said. “She needed some new Members in the room and some diversity of voices beyond her close-knit group, but it’s still not people who are outside her circle.”
Andrews got to work repairing his tattered image soon after the 2008 elections, when he began immersing himself in the health care reform debate. An attorney by trade, Andrews quickly became one of Pelosi’s top advisers on the issue and was dispatched to brief freshman and sophomore Members. He even became part of a rapid-response team Democrats launched in August 2009 just as the messaging wars heated up over the issue in town hall events across the country. Andrews said his role “helped me get to know a lot of Members better.” Several observers from the time agreed.
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