WASHINGTON — Rep. Mark Sanford isn’t wet behind the ears, but that’s what he’s saying to explain how he ended up on the floor of the House of Representatives in shorts, a T-shirt, gym socks and sneakers.
Sanford, a Republican and former South Carolina governor, was out for a run on the National Mall late Wednesday afternoon when his beeper went off as he reached the Washington Monument. Votes on four amendments to a defense spending bill had been moved up ahead of schedule.
A cross-country runner in high school and college, Sanford said Thursday that he broke into a sprint and ran to the U.S. Capitol, a distance of about 1 1/4 miles.
“I was full out back to the Capitol,” Sanford told McClatchy. “The good news is they hold votes open longer than they did back in the ‘90s,” during Sanford’s first stint in Congress.
Just as he reached a side entrance to the House chamber, the House parliamentarian handed him a blazer to put on over his sweaty shirt, apparently mindful of sartorial rules requiring that men wear jackets on the House floor.
“I stepped on the floor for about half a second and handed in my voting card,” Sanford said. “I didn’t linger.”
House rules, which are enforced by the House speaker, require “a coat and tie for male Members” while they are “in attendance in the House Chamber,” according to the most recent guide to House rules and procedures.
Sanford, who tearfully confessed to an extramarital affair at a nationally televised news conference in 2009, acknowledged Thursday that some of his fellow lawmakers gave him grief about his sweaty appearance on the House floor.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a fellow South Carolina Republican, said the incident wasn’t a big deal.
“Honestly, it could happen to anybody,” Mulvaney said. “I was running on the Mall with (Sen.) Rand Paul once when he got called to votes.”
In 2004, during his second year as governor, Sanford caused a stir when he carried two piglets into the chambers of the South Carolina General Assembly, a stunt aimed at dramatizing excessive government spending.
In 1998, Speaker Newt Gingrich had an aide send a spoof letter to the mother of then-Rep. Jack Quinn after the New York Republican appeared on the House floor in gym clothes.
“He can still wear his shorts and tank top when he is doing his daily job down the Mall or his daily basketball game,” the aide wrote.
Sanford won a special House election to South Carolina’s 1st District in May to replace then-Rep. Tim Scott, who was named by Gov. Nikki Haley to a vacancy created by the resignation of former Sen. Jim DeMint. Sanford defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of Comedy Central TV commentator Stephen Colbert.
On a more serious note Thursday, Sanford explained why he voted for a measure to limit domestic surveillance programs, an amendment that nearly passed.
“If one is wary of federal government, it has to be on all fronts, not just spending, but also the size and scope of government in many different aspects,” Sanford said.
He was among just 38 Republicans to vote for a separate amendment by Mulvaney to cut defense spending by $3.5 billion, which the House narrowly approved.
“The financial reality is that government has to be reigned in to be sustainable,” Sanford said. “Obviously defense spending is part of the Republican constituency, but I don’t think any constituency can be spared given the financial realities we’re looking at without either substantially raising taxes or substantially raising our debt load.”
David Goldstein of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report
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