WASHINGTON, DC—Former Virginia senator Charles Robb, ousted from Congress in the 2000 elections by Republican challenger George Allen, continues to hang around the Capitol building nearly two years later, sources reported Monday.
"I saw him again this morning," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who served on various subcommittees with Robb during his 1989-2001 senate tenure. "As usual, he was leaning against a column by the front steps, smoking a cigarette. I tried to act like I didn't see him, but he flagged me down and started asking me all these questions about new legislation and 'what's been up with everybody.' It was so awkward."
While most ousted legislators land jobs in the private sector, go on the speaking circuit, or retire, Robb has struggled with the transition to post-senate life.
"Serving in Congress was the highlight of Chuck's life, and he just hasn't been able to let that go and move on," said Mark Shields, moderator of CNN's The Capital Gang. "I think that by loitering around the Capitol, he can convince himself he's still in the loop."
The day after Robb's election loss to Allen, numerous friends and colleagues dropped by his office to wish him good luck in future endeavors. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) recalled telling Robb "not to be a stranger"—unaware of just how faithfully the departing senator would heed the words.
"The first week after the Senate reconvened in January, he showed up," Biden said. "Everyone was excited to see him again and made a big deal about his dropping by. But then he just kept coming back. I used to joke about making him an honorary Senator For Life, but he seemed to take that a bit too seriously, so I stopped."
In spite of their discomfort with Robb's constant presence, most senators concede that he is generally unobtrusive.
"Mostly, he just likes shooting the breeze," Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) said. "He'll talk to you if you just want to chat, but he doesn't mind making himself scarce when there's work to be done. It's weird asking him to leave when, just two years ago, he would have been working alongside us."
Because the Capitol is a public building, Robb is free to roam its halls during visiting hours. So omnipresent is Robb, senators occasionally forget that he is no longer an elected member.
"I approached Chuck one day to ask if I could count on his support for my new clean-water bill," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said. "He just looked at me and said, 'I would, Pat, but federal law prohibits non-senators from voting.' I completely forgot he wasn't a senator anymore."
"Sometimes, I'll spot him with a tour group up in the balcony of the senate chambers, sighing loudly," Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) said. "Sad."
Not all senators are as tolerant of Robb.
"The most important work in the country is being done in this building," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). "Charles is a nice enough fella, but he has no business being here. This is a lawmaking body, not a clubhouse."