Every Senator Due to Get a Capitol Hideaway

Posted January 15, 2010 at 6:29pm

The marble and the grandeur of the Capitol’s above-ground floors may belong to Senators, but the building’s bowels have long been the domain of the janitors, cooks, engineers and other employees who keep the place running day after day.

But in recent weeks, some of those workers have been moved to accommodate a growing number of Capitol hideaways — the secretive second offices where Senators hash out legislative deals, entertain guests or catch a breather between votes. Once a perk for only the most senior and powerful lawmakers, hideaways will soon be offered to all 100 Senators.

Senate officials declined to speak about the hideaway expansion, but several sources confirmed that the Senate Rules and Administration Committee is already doling out hidden-away pieces of the Capitol.

Freshman Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), for example, was handed the keys to his Capitol space “two or three months ago,— spokesman Kyle Hines said. In past years, Risch would never have had a chance: He numbers 90th in seniority, according to the Senate seniority list maintained by Roll Call.

“We heard that there was a rule change and that everybody was going to get them and they go by seniority,— Hines said. He described Risch’s space as medium-sized with enough room for a couch and a desk.

Real estate in the Capitol was once at a premium. In 2004, only 75 hideaways were available, and some were little more than windowless closets in the corners of the Capitol basement. Senior Senators got the cream of the secretive crop: rooms with windows, fireplaces and historic significance.

Before he left the Senate, Vice President Joseph Biden had a coveted room with a full bathroom and chandelier. When the Delaware Democrat left the Senate last year, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) snatched it up despite already having a large hideaway and, if rumors are true, several other spaces throughout the Capitol that he collected during his 50 years in the Senate.

Senators sometimes waited years to get any space at all in the Capitol. A new chance comes every two years, when Senators who leave Congress also leave behind coveted hideaways. When the 112th Congress begins, several good hideaways will be up for grabs. Among them: Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.), whose room was the site of Samuel Morse’s first demonstration of the telegraph, and that of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who’s high enough in seniority to have a decent spot.

But the creation of new hideaway space means Senators will no longer have to wait. Some of that space comes from the movement of offices to the year-old Capitol Visitor Center; some was freed up by relocating Senate workers.

Officials seem to have already made it far down the seniority list. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), 94th on the list, has a space, though his office did not provide details.

But Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and George LeMieux (R-Fla.) — numbers 98 and 99, respectively — haven’t even heard that they could be getting one, according to their spokesmen.

Still, the Capitol basement seems almost ready for them.

Eight rooms will soon open to Senators in the space that once housed Capitol Police officers, who moved more than a year ago to the CVC. Hundreds of officers once filled the rundown hallway, taking breaks in rooms that were crammed with lockers — so many lockers, in fact, that officials had to construct makeshift lofts to hold more.

Now, that hallway is almost unrecognizable, devoid of the chairs and crowds that used to be ever-present. The rooms are carpeted and empty and seem almost ready for Senators to move in. But Jean Bordewich, the Senate Rules staff director, declined to comment on the timeline.

Three more offices are undergoing renovations nearby. Last week, one Senate Sergeant-at-Arms employee showed off his team’s old break room, now in the middle of a complete renovation. The spaces will be transformed into hideaways, while the employees who once worked there have been moved into the Senate Recording Studio’s old space. The Recording Studio recently moved to the CVC.

The Senate employee, who asked not to be named, said his co-workers prefer the old space for its seclusion but are fairly content with the move. The new break room sports new lockers, a large television and a cluster of round tables.

“There’s always change going on round here,— the employee said. “Do I like it? I’m not going to say yes.—