Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) spent hours, maybe even days, hammering out the details of the carefully crafted agreement.
The negotiations, completed earlier this spring, weren’t about funding, however, but something equally valuable: a prime private office in the Capitol.
Cochran had been eyeing the office vacated by now-retired Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) when the biennial scramble for the coveted “hideaways” began earlier this year.
The 70-odd offices, located throughout the Capitol’s north end, are distributed to Senators based on their seniority in the chamber. And Hollings, who was the fourth-most senior Senator when he retired at the end of the 108th Congress, had one of the best.
“I was asking Sen. [Trent] Lott [R-Miss.], who is now chairman of the Rules Committee, if he had any spaces from some of the senior, most senior Members, who are retiring, and I said, ‘Fritz Hollings must have a nice one,’” Cochran recalled in an interview held inside his newly acquired hideaway.
When Cochran set his sights on moving into Hollings’ former digs on the Capitol’s second floor — the office features a beautiful view of the West Front and the Mall — he ran into a major obstacle: He ranked 12th in overall seniority, not high enough to ensure the office would be his.
Further emphasizing the value of longevity, Lott informed Cochran that another, more senior Senator might be interested in the space: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), No. 10.
“He said, ‘Well, Sen. Hatch has indicated he would like to look at spaces.’ So I said, ‘Well, he might like mine, it’s a lot bigger.’”
Hatch accepted the proposal, moving into Cochran’s old office, which is much larger but windowless, and the Mississippian moved into Hollings’ former office, which has one of the best views of Washington.
“It’s a great view, unless the late afternoon sun is shining in because it is truly the West Front,” Cochran said. He also recalled a humorous anecdote about two offices a little higher than his own.
The Majority Leader’s suite is located directly above Cochran’s new hideaway, giving it a slightly better view of the Mall. One day, when then-Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) hosted President Ronald Reagan, he informed the president that he had “the grandest view in Washington,” to which Reagan responded, “Howard, I think it’s the second-best view; I have the best view in Washington.”
Cochran said that is one thing he always remembers when he looks out of his window: “It’s not the best view in Washington, but it’s close.”
Cochran quickly made himself at home in his newfound hideaway. The office’s walls are lined with memorabilia, paintings and pictures, including one of a special significance: a large portrait of his grandson Samuel Clayton Cochran.