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Roll Call

Senator Squatter? Heller Won't Give Up Office Space

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Heller, the junior senator from Nevada, moved into Russell 361-A after the resignation of John Ensign.

Staffers for Sen. Dean Heller have been bullying other senatorsí aides to protect the Nevada Republicanís space in the Russell Senate Office Building, CQ Roll Call has learned.

As part of the biennial Senate office lottery, junior members are obligated to show their office suites to more senior members, who then have 24 hours to decide whether to claim that space as their own. Hellerís office suite ó which he inherited after the scandal-fueled resignation of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. ó may be particularly attractive to other senators because its floor plan includes a larger-than-average member office.

Though special courtesies are usually extended to aides and members visiting offices, Heller staffers repeatedly tried to keep them from seeing the spacious member office, sources reported, saying meetings were ongoing and could not be interrupted.

Several Senate offices lodged complaints with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, according to several sources familiar with the attempted visits to Hellerís office.

ďThis is beyond silly. Weíre disappointed that this has become fodder for pettiness among staff members,Ē Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. ďOur office has worked hard to balance the busy and demanding work of running a Senate office, hosting meetings and greeting constituents while accommodating members and numerous staffers from nearly 20 offices who want to see the space.Ē

A visit from Sen. Saxby Chamblissí staffers was particularly contentious, and the tension between the two offices only appears to have deepened in the weeks after the tour. When the Georgia Republicanís staff asked to see Hellerís suite, Chambliss had not yet announced his decision to retire in 2014. According to sources familiar with incident, Heller Chief of Staff Mac Abrams joked that Chamblissí staff should ask Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., if he would like the suite. He also jokingly suggested that Heller would have to support any potential Broun primary bid if Chambliss took their office. (At the time, Broun was rumored to be contemplating a primary challenge, and he has subsequently announced he will run for the open seat.)

According to some sources told about the exchange, Hellerís chief of staff then offered $10,000 in campaign contributions from the senatorís PAC if Chambliss declined to take the suite. Hellerís office disputes this claim.

Another source familiar with the situation said a campaign contribution offer was made in jest. Abrams joked, according to this source, that Heller would give funds to Broun if Chambliss ousted Heller from the space. Another source corroborated this account. Those who believed the remarks to be a joke said no number was ascribed to the contribution, but $10,000 is the maximum a member PAC can give in one cycle to another member.

Hellerís staff believed at the time that both parties knew they were joking around and said the conversation appeared genial even after the joke was made. A source familiar with the conversation said it ended with Hellerís chief of staff mentioning their communications director is from Augusta, Ga., and would be happy to help with Chamblissí campaign.

Still, Chambliss was so troubled by the incident that he personally spoke to Heller about it.

Hellerís office said they have been flexible in showing the rest of the suite, but that because of the senatorís schedule, his personal office has been difficult to show. One other office confirmed having difficulty in seeing the Heller space and bizarre behavior by his staffers. But a spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who recently toured the office space, said there were ďno problems whatsoeverĒ and that it was a positive experience.

Chamblissí office declined to comment for this story. A Rules panel spokesman also declined to comment on the allegations of bullying.

The Senate lottery process usually stretches from the time immediately after an election to the spring of the next Congress. In the 112th Congress, the process lasted until May 1 and there were 35 moves, which is the most in recent memory, according to a Rules Committee source. The average number of moves per Congress is about 20. This year the lottery is on pace to match last yearís schedule as members of the class of 2008 look at office spaces.

For now, however, Heller remains in Russell 361-A.

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