Berman leaves Congress

After 30 years, the last day in Congress for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) was Jan. 2. Unlike some other veteran lawmakers who left office this year — including Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who penned a retrospective op-ed in The New York Times on his final day, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who told his own story during a 20-minute speech to a mostly empty Senate chamber in December — Berman appears to have made no such public pronouncements.

Requests by the Journal for an exit interview submitted to Berman’s staff met with no response, and, according to the Congressional Record, Berman’s speeches on the House floor remained focused on business-as-usual right up until the end. On Dec. 31, the former ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee spoke on the House floor to condemn North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile last month. Berman didn’t mention it would likely be his last opportunity to do so.

His congressional colleagues did mark the occasion, however. Along with Berman, Reps. Pete Stark, Lynn Woolsey, Bob Filner, Joe Baca and Laura Richardson all left Congress last year; members of the California delegation paid homage to Berman and the others who had represented the Golden State on Dec. 12 in a special hour-long tribute on the House floor. 

 “This House will miss you because you brought honor to it in everything that you have done,” Rep. Anna Eshoo said in an emotional speech about Berman. “So it is bittersweet. No, it’s just bitter. There isn’t any sweetness to it.”

During the celebration of their colleagues’ careers and accomplishments, a number of representatives praised Berman for his well-known achievements — “Mr. Berman will be remembered as a strong friend of Israel,” said Rep. George Miller — as well as for lesser-known ones. 

Rep. Mike Honda spoke admiringly of Berman’s support for a 2007 bill, H.Res. 121, which called on Japan “to apologize and to acknowledge the tragedy endured at the hands of its Imperial Army during World War II by over 200,000 women in Asia who were forced into sexual slavery.”

While Stark and Woolsey both made remarks on Dec. 12, the Congressional Record doesn’t include any statements from Berman during that hour in the House chamber.

Berman’s silent departure stands in marked contrast to the speech he delivered at the start of his congressional career. On April 12, 1983, in concluding his tribute to another accomplished California legislator — Rep. Phil Burton, who had died two days earlier of a brain aneurysm at age 56 — Berman noted that the speech was his first as a congressman. 

“I just find it ironic and sad,” Berman said, “that in the excitement of being elected to this wonderful institution, that the first chance I have to address the body on any subject is on the passing of a man who I had hoped to spend years working with and learning from.”