A number of long-serving Senators are sitting out this year’s draw for coveted hideaways.
Although Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have scored posh new hangouts, several others high on the seniority list have decided to stay put.
That has opened the way for the ninth- and 10th-most-senior Senators, Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to push for upgrades.
It’s a Senate tradition that is a cross between “Trading Spaces” and the NBA draft. Every two years, after some of the longest-serving lawmakers retire or pass away, the remaining Senators start the process of shuffling spaces, seeking to enhance their status with a coveted secret office.
But about a quarter of the way through the process this year, many of the chamber’s senior lawmakers are sticking with the spoils of their seniority, content with the plush Capitol refuges decades of service have afforded.
Four of the 10 longest-serving sitting Senators decided it was time for an upgrade, including Hatch, who snagged the legendary space once occupied by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Levin, who moved into the impressive hideaway of former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
Hatch said his elegant new third-floor office, with a fireplace, large windows and high arched ceilings, is a significant upgrade, especially because it is just paces from the Senate floor.
“This one has a convenience factor to it that my other ones have not,” he said Thursday. “I’ve had a variety of offices over here and I like this one better than any one I’ve had.”
As he passed by in the Senate chamber Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) ribbed Hatch about his catch, asking whether he’s ready to spend $100,000 to remodel his new room.
The Utah Republican, who is up for reelection next year, said he doesn’t know the price tag attached to his move. He said the Architect of the Capitol handles that — and for good reason.
“We’ve got to maintain it because it was the original library for Thomas Jefferson’s books,” he told Roll Call.
Though Kennedy’s hideaway was the big haul, Levin fell into another top hideaway, according to sources in his office.
Although Levin himself declined to comment, he benefited from fifth-most-senior Sen. Max Baucus’ decision to keep his second-floor room, a source in the Montana Democrat’s office confirmed. Baucus stayed put because of the great location behind the Mansfield Room, where Senators often hold luncheons.
Taking Dodd’s hideaway was a rare move, considering Levin actually entered the Senate two years before Dodd. But he may have been enthralled by the history; the room was the site of Samuel Morse’s first demonstration of the telegraph. He may also have been keen on what a former Dodd staffer described as “one heck of a view.”
Located in a private hallway near the Old Senate Chamber, the space is not as large as Kennedy’s, but it has its perks.
“It has a fireplace in it, and it has a great view right down the West Front of the Capitol,” the former Dodd staffer said. “It was a great room. That’s one of those things that you acquire after a long and respectable career.”
Leahy, meanwhile, said he was in no hurry to move.
“Why would I want to give up mine?” he asked. “I’ve got the most beautiful view probably in the whole Capitol.”
An avid photographer, the second-most-senior Senator, brandishing a professional-grade digital camera, scrolled to a freshly snapped photo to prove his case.
“Recognize that guy?” he asked Wednesday, pointing to a man clad in familiar orange-tinted sunglasses, his arm casually resting on a balcony ledge looking out on a spectacular view of the Washington Monument. “It’s Bono.”
The seven-term Senator is the proud inhabitant of a first-floor hideaway, formerly the stomping grounds of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). With a fireplace, built-in bookshelves, a private bathroom and a balcony, it is a rare gem among the Capitol’s hidden offices, and certainly enough to impress even a rock star.
Leahy’s neighbor, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the most senior Senator, also decided not to move this year, said his spokesman Peter Boylan — although he did take over the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) sprawling suite, which occupies the entire northwest corner of the Brumidi Corridor and includes some of the painter’s famous frescoes. The space used to be Byrd’s hideaway before he asked the Rules and Administration Committee to repurpose the President Pro Tem office in 2009 so he could snatch the room next door as well.
That room, a modest space with a fireplace, tall arched and frescoed ceilings and large windows overlooking Lower Senate Park, remained empty as of Friday.
The two Senators’ spots are adjacent to the Speaker’s office and like Leahy, Inouye’s hideaway, once the office of the Librarian of Congress, has a working fireplace and large windows.
When third-most-senior Sen. Dick Lugar’s name came up, he declined the chance to move, too.
“I’m staying in the same room I had,” the Indiana Republican told Roll Call last week.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), No. 6 on the seniority list, opted to stay in the office he wrangled in 2005, a second-floor room with a beautiful view of the West Front and the Mall that used to belong to then-Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.).
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), eighth in seniority, said he looked at two hideaways but decided to stay put.
That opened up the way for Bingaman and Kerry to move into new hideaways, their staffs confirmed, although Bingaman has already said he will not run for re-election in 2012. McConnell, No. 12 on the list, moved as well.
But Senators often guard the locations of their hideaways with the same veracity they would a matter of national security. Neither the Senators nor their staffs would divulge where the new refuges are, or who used to occupy them.
The top choices would likely have been the spaces vacated by Byrd, Hatch and Levin, or former Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-Pa.) old digs, a first-floor office with double doors, large windows and a view of the Supreme Court. Levin’s old hideaway, by contrast, is in the basement and looks out over the West Front, a decidedly more coveted vista.
Every other Senator in the top 20 of the seniority list is staying put, with the exception of Reid, whose staff is currently looking at spaces. Of course, with a plush leadership office, the hideaway would be more of a score for the Senator’s staff. They would be the ones using it, a staffer said.