February 14

You need a thick skin to serve as a member of Congress for even a day, much less 23 years. Still, retiring Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) took quite a bit more heat than he deserved in The Post recently. As a former member of his legislative staff, I would like set the record straight.

The roughest criticism came via a Feb. 5 article “Rep. Andrews, leaving with no laws, cites successes” that suggested Rob — Andrews eschews honorifics — is “America’s least successful lawmaker of the past two decades.” This is misguided on several accounts.

First, at least during my time with him, Rob kept a ratio of approximately two social workers for every one member of his legislative team. Most House members keep the opposite. If a retiree’s Social Security check went missing or a military veteran had trouble getting medical care, he knew to call Rob. I doubt that any of the thousands of people he helped would call Rob “least successful.”

Second, while it’s true that Rob often tilted at windmills, he had a refreshing willingness to choose “right” over “popular.” For me, the most vivid example of this was his steadfast opposition to the Oslo peace process. Alone among his Democratic colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rob denounced Yasser Arafat as an unreliable partner for peace and warned that Israelis and Palestinians would regret entrusting him with their hopes for a two-state solution. Rob ended up ostracized on the committee, but history proved him correct.

Third, Rob was able to take the long view, largely because he did not look for quick victories. For example, in the health-care-reform debate of 1994, he argued for the elimination of lifetime limits on health insurance policies. It fell upon me to provide the economic rationale for this policy, and I was shocked to learn that the major insurance companies had never evaluated the profit impact of their practice, common at the time, of limiting total expenditures on any one person’s health to $1 million or $2 million. I asked two companies to perform this analysis and learned that for one company the actuarial value of a $1 million lifetime limit was too small to measure. For the other, it was about two-tenths of 1 percent of net income. This work laid the foundation for the elimination, in the Affordable Care Act, of the pernicious practice of cutting off care for the people who need it most. Rob championed policies that made a difference in people’s lives. 

So after 23 years, Rob departs Congress for a high-paid job in a major law firm. His legacy is a close-knit family, thousands of constituents aided, big ideas championed when they weren’t popular and families retaining their medical coverage. Was Rob Andrews the most consequential legislator in U.S. history? No. But “least successful”? Not in my opinion.

Benjamin J. Lieblich, Arlington