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Freshman office lottery was all pomp and superstition this morning, as 85 new Members of Congress drew numbers out of a box to reveal the pecking order for room selection.
Members-elect drew alphabetically to “oohs” and “ahs,” claps and backslaps, amid the collegiate mood that permeated the House Science and Technology Committee hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building.
The stakes were high. A slew of defeated or retiring incumbents caused a domino effect of moving that freed up offices usually reserved for Members with midlevel seniority.
So when the bingo-like lottery announcer joked to the room that “Members or staff that come up and perform some kind of dance or lucky ritual always draw the lowest number,” he set off a chain reaction of bizarre, ceremonious token picking.
Rep.-elect Lou Barletta didn’t want to be the first to bust a move.
“I wanted to dance but just couldn’t,” the Pennsylvania Republican said, sagging his head low on the long walk back to his seat after picking No. 67.
Rep.-elect Jaime Herrera had a bit more luck with a shimmy up to the dais. The Washington Republican drew No. 8.
Rep.-elect Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) danced but picked No. 45. Rep.-elect Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) crossed his fingers behind his back, only to get No. 21. And Rep.-elect Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) knocked on the wooden dais twice, did a magician-like hand-sweep over the box, then chose No. 49.
Nothing was working. That is, until Rep.-elect Cory Gardner figured out the trick.
The savvy Colorado Republican picked his token without looking, and instead of handing it to the lottery announcer, he handed it to the man two seats to his right.
The result? No. 1.
He got a rousing standing ovation and a big hug from Rep.-elect Frank Guinta (R-N.H.). The luck didn’t rub off though. Guinta picked No. 65 a few minutes later.
Gardner’s trick, he said later: practice. “I practiced pulling tissues out of the box,” he said. “I’d pull 20 to 25 until I decided that my form was good.”
But Rep.-elect Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) obviously didn’t buy the story. He dragged Gardner up to the podium when it was his turn to pick, and before reaching into the box, he rubbed Gardner’s head and shoulders. Again, no luck: No. 52.
Before the rest of the eager Members-elect could start cutting off locks of his hair and making voodoo dolls, top-spot winner Gardner bolted the room to call his chief of staff.
“We are going to go looking around,” Gardner said. “We didn’t spend too much time looking because we didn’t think we’d ever get it.”
Freshman GOP leader Rep.-elect Tim Scott (S.C.) brought along his mother, Frances, to pick for him. She drew No. 44 — not a bad result out of 85, but coincidentally, also Scott’s high school football number.
While the pair may not be lucky, “we’re consistent,” Scott said.
One very unlucky — or out-of-practice freshman — Rep.-elect Robert Hurt (R-Va.), picked No. 85, but he got a conciliatory round of applause from his colleagues.
“I think it was a good omen,” Hurt said of his pick. “It makes my job a lot easier.”
And with that, the first and the last pick were off — Hurt, perhaps, to study policy and strategy, and Gardner to inspect furniture and square footage.
They had to be back at Rayburn around 1 p.m. to make the choices official, so Gardner’s first stop was Cannon House Office Building, where several 1,000-plus-square-foot offices were available.
Word of his conquest traveled quickly. Majority Whip-designate Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shot over a text message.
“He actually sent me a text and said, ‘Hey, congrats!’” Gardner said. “I said, ‘Got any advice?’ Kevin McCarthy’s official advice: ‘Go for size and lowest floor.’”
Gardner spent about two hours looking at about a dozen offices in Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings.
After looking at several interior offices with views of the roof of the Cannon parking garages, Gardner had had about enough.
“You want to just focus on the outer?” Chief of Staff Chris Hansen asked.
“Yes,” Gardner replied.
With a unique floor plan and an entrance near C and First streets Southeast, Rep. Vern Buchanan’s (R-Fla.) 997-square-foot digs in 218 Cannon were among the first to draw Gardner’s eye.
“It’s close to the Capitol Hill Club” and the National Republican Congressional Committee, he said. “We could just tell constituents to go in this entrance and it’s right by the door,” he added of the building’s side entrance.
In the halls of the office buildings, Gardner’s pick earned him almost cult status. Bryon Noem, husband of Rep.-elect Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), did the “Wayne’s World” bow toward Gardner in the Cannon hall.
And anytime a Member-elect walked into a potential office to see Gardner already there, his head sank in disappointment as he assumed the office was off the market.
“They’re hounding me like, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’” he said. “So I fire back, ‘What’s your top choice?’”
By 11 a.m., Gardner and Hansen had huddled in the Longworth office of Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
“If I end up on the Agriculture Committee, I’ll be right down the hall,” Gardner said.
Rep.-elect Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) walked in during his quest for rooms. He’d drawn No. 14, so he had good options.
“I want to be close to the gym, because I’m going to sleep in my office,” Griffin told Gardner. But when asked, Griffin added, “Exercise? I want to be near the showers.”
“I do not want to see you in a bathrobe and slippers,” Gardner told him later.
Finally, Gardner ended up picking the office of Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), 213 Cannon.
He’ll be right down the hall from fellow Colorado Rep.-elect Scott Tipton (R), who chose room 218.
Rep.-elect Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) let his wife, Lisa, do the heavy lifting. Of utmost importance to her was modular furniture.
With the 20th pick, they ended up choosing 331 Cannon, which belongs to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), whom Noem ousted.
But after looking at so many offices, “I don’t even remember which one it is,” Lisa Palazzo said later. “I was like, ‘331? Which one is that?’”
The first and second floor of Cannon and Longworth made several appearances in the top 25 room picks.
But oddly enough, the “Cannon cages” — the fifth-floor offices renowned for their inaccessibility and lack of windows — made an appearance early in the draft. Rep.-elect Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) chose room 513 with his 11th pick, though he wouldn’t say why.
With the 12th pick, Rep.-elect Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) made an unconventional pick too. He’ll be on Longworth’s seventh floor; but on the bright side, he’ll have a nice view of the Dome in office 1725.
Among the last pickers was Rep.-elect Billy Long (R-Mo.), who live-tweeted the event all day. At No. 79, he had a long wait before he could get his new office.
“I’ll be in 1541 Longworth which I picked sight unseen!!!,” he tweeted at about 3:20 p.m., adding around 4 p.m.: “I love my new office! Got a bad lottery number but a great office! Longworth 1541 will be perfect! I’d have made a broom closet work not now.”