U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford said he's gotten a "cordial reception" in Washington and has yet to notice the hyper-partisanship that some say has come to define Congress.
Speaking outside a Piggly Wiggly grocery store on Hilton Head Island, the Charleston Republican said the most obvious change during the past 13 years has been the security presence on Capitol Hill.
"I remember walking up to the steps of the Capitol to go vote, and you just sort of walked in there," he said. "Now, there are two guys with machine guns at the top of the steps. That is a new phenomenon."
Sanford, a two-term governor who defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a May 7 special election, served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2001. The House seat came open when Tim Scott was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by fellow Republican Jim DeMint.
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The "neighborhood office hours" Sanford held at the Piggly Wiggly were among three stops he made in Beaufort County on Monday. He also attended a Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Beaufort and visited Aunt Chilada's Easy Street Cafe, also on Hilton Head, at noon.
Sanford spent about an hour outside the grocery store, despite 86-degree heat and 79-percent humidity. He chatted with shoppers, shook hands and posed for a half-dozen photos.
Ken and Jill Hart of Cleveland, who rode their bikes to the store for some last-minute supplies, said they were surprised to see Sanford.
"My wife recognized him immediately," said Hart, adding that both he and his wife follow politics.
Sanford spoke at length with David Martin, owner of the Piggly Wiggly store in Coligny. Martin, who voted for Sanford and allowed him to greet customers outside his store, told Sanford that federal regulations for food coolers, country-of-origin information and other requirements are a growing challenge for grocery stores.
"It's a lot of paperwork," Martin said.
Speaking to reporters, Sanford said he has yet to receive committee assignments and is still getting adjusted to life in Washington. He said his first two weeks in office were occupied with tasks such as hiring staffers, getting business cards printed and installing office computers.
He's also looking for a place to live.
Sanford slept in his office during his first two weeks, something he did during his three previous terms. This time he's looking for something a little less Spartan and is taking his time to find the right spot.
"If you're going to be at all a shopper -- and I've been known for my frugality over the years -- you're going to look around a little," he said.
He described returning to Washington after nearly 13 years as "somewhat surreal." Some days he feels like he left the House "a thousand years ago." Other days it seems like just a couple of weeks have elapsed.
"I have gotten a cordial reception thus far from folks I didn't know in Congress ... and an equally cordial one from folks I did know," he said.
As for the partisanship, which has pushed congressional approval levels to the low teens?
"I have not yet experienced it. I have only been there two weeks," he said. "... We'll see."