Hideaway Chase Loses Its Luster
The biennial hideaway land grab, in which Senators stake their claim to the coveted private offices scattered across their side of the Capitol, has lost its luster a bit this year thanks to few retirements and the ongoing construction of the Capitol Visitor Center.
While Senate leaders knew for some time that they would be forced to relocate 10 of the estimated 75 hideaways, junior lawmakers may not have realized the shuffle would mean slim pickings when their number got called.
“There was no net loss of Capitol offices due to the CVC construction, but the quality went down a bit,” said Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), whose panel doles out the coveted rooms.
While retirements of senior lawmakers normally set off a scramble for prime real estate, there were very few major exits last year. And the Senators who lost re-election — such as Sens. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and Jean
Carnahan (D-Mo.) — were relatively junior lawmakers who did not leave behind prime hideaways.
Thanks to the limited choices, many senior Senators have decided to stay put rather than jump to better hideaways.
Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (No. 8 in overall seniority), Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (No. 10), Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (No. 11) and Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus (No. 12) all declined to move.
“It’s very quiet, very large and just beautiful,” Hatch said of his longtime hideaway, while Leahy described his spot as having “one of the best views around and a fireplace.”
At least a couple of veteran lawmakers, however, made out pretty well. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who is now at No. 7 on the seniority list, was able to snag the coveted hideaway of former Sen. Jesse Helms
(R-N.C.) — one of the few high-profile retirees from 2002.
The first-floor hideaway is located near a Senators-only staircase and has amenities like a full bathroom, making it one of the most coveted pieces of real estate over the years.
Previous inhabitants of the hideaway — which has a fireplace, ornate ceiling and a gorgeous chandelier — included former Sens. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) and Bill Roth (R-Del.).
“I got a wonderful one,” Biden boasted within earshot of several Senators who looked positively green with envy as they nodded in agreement.
The hideaway is also close to the Foreign Relations Committee room, where Biden serves as ranking member. The panel room is where the committee greets foreign dignitaries visiting the Capitol.
“It’s really convenient, so I can actually use it,” Biden said of the nearby hideaway.
Biden said he did not use his last hideaway much because it was not as convenient. Furthermore, it was located in the now-closed East Front, where hideaways are not quite as coveted as those on the West Front anyway.
The East Front, which was constructed to replace the old sandstone facade with marble, was only finished in the 1960s, according to Associate Senate Historian Don Ritchie. By contrast, the West Front rooms date back to the early 1800s, giving them more historical significance as well as better views of the National Mall.
Another premium spot in the Capitol became available this year as Sen. Strom
Thurmond (R-S.C.), who was tops in seniority, retired. That opened up his plush President Pro Tem office.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has climbed to No. 4 in overall seniority. But he is the most senior Republican, so he took over the Pro Tem post as well as the spacious office known as the Strom Thurmond Room that comes with the title.
“It’s a beautiful room,” Stevens said of the room that’s in the leadership wing off the Rotunda on the second floor of the Capitol.
Complete with a large conference table, fireplace and a fantastic view of the Mall, Stevens said he uses it mainly for formal meetings.
In addition to assuming Thurmond’s Capitol office, Stevens held on to his own hideaway, located two doors down, on the other side of Sen. Daniel Inouye’s (D-Hawaii) hideaway.
Currently, Stevens’ secretary for the President Pro Tem office works out of his hideaway because her usual office space was temporarily given to Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.).
Santorum’s East Front hideaway is inaccessible due to construction. Santorum said he uses that premium space only for conference-related activities. While he received a replacement hideaway, he has no intention of using it.
“It’s way in the basement, down a hall. I have no idea where it is,” he said, proving that seniority, and not leadership, determines the quality of one’s hideaway.
Santorum may be Conference chairman, but he ranks No. 55 in overall seniority.
Explaining his decision to remain in his longtime hideaway, Stevens said: “As the most senior Republican, I’ve already had my choice of everything.”
Furthermore, the word in leadership circles is that Thurmond’s actual hideaway did not come on the market but rather was sacrificed to the GOP leadership because of the space crunch.
This year’s jockeying for hideaways began in late March and is almost finished, according to Lott spokeswoman Susan Irby.
Lott said he hopes to regain the East Front spaces once the CVC is finished. Congressional officials plan to have enough work finished to properly host the 2005 inauguration, but the visitor center’s final completion date is slated for later that year.
In very rare instances, exceptions to the seniority rule are made. When the late Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) passed away and his son, Lincoln Chafee (R), took his seat, his colleagues allowed the younger Chafee to use his father’s hideaway. However, that was only temporary and now Chafee, who is No. 79 in seniority, has no “Capitol office,” as hideaways are officially called.
Not everyone is eager to move when an office becomes available, and that is especially true this year.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has one of the best hideaways, located on the third floor near the Senate Radio-TV Gallery with a fantastic view of the Mall and family memorabilia filling the walls. He routinely passes up chances to move.
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) had the ability to snag Helms’ hideaway before Biden when he climbed to No. 6 on the seniority list, but he declined.
“I like it so very much,” Domenici said of his current space, which is only one hallway removed from the office of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). He said his hideaway is so close to Frist it’s “almost like you’re tied to the leader.”
Baucus said his hideaway’s proximity to the floor was a “big factor” in his decision not to budge.
Some relatively junior Senators also declined to move this time around, despite the opportunity to get something nicer. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), No. 38 in seniority, said he opted to stay put despite being shown “a couple” of options.
“It would have cost [taxpayer] money to move, so I didn’t,” he said, adding that his current space “is about the same size as [an] elevator.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is excited that, at No. 82, she is now eligible for a hideaway. “I just got a call that one is available for me,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s a real benefit to be able to [continue] working here during late nights, to be able to make phone calls.”
But not everyone finds the rooms invaluable.
“I have one and I never use it,” said Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who is No. 36 in seniority. He noted that the first time he really used the hideaway much was in the middle of the anthrax scare during the fall of 2001, which bumped him out of his office in the Hart Senate Office Building.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he also used his old hideaway quite a bit during the anthrax scare. After the 2002 election, Durbin moved up to No. 60 in seniority, landing him a new hideaway.
“I haven’t reached the level of a having a window yet,” Durbin noted, adding that he “has not stepped foot” into the new hideaway.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who’s at No. 45, still does not have a great space.
“I got one somewhere,” he said. “Every time I try to use it, I have to look it up. When they say ‘hideaway,’ they aren’t kidding. You have to be here 20 years to get a good one.”
Perhaps no one understands the importance of seniority in snagging a premium space better than Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
He has returned to the Senate after a two-year hiatus and longs for the days when he enjoyed a spacious hideaway — courtesy of his 26th-place ranking on the seniority list in the 106th Congress.
He entered the 108th Congress a freshman, without his previous three terms counting, so he’s now stuck at No. 92 in seniority without a hideaway.
“I am disappointed,” he said. “But hope springs eternal.”