North Carolina GOP Rep. Ted Budd says he should be able to sleep wherever he wants, including his office in the Capitol complex.
Budd sent a letter Tuesday to Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton and Congress’ attending physician Brian Monahan defending the safety of sleeping in his office and not renting a place in Washington. His letter responds to an earlier letter sent by California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who urged a ban on members sleeping in the Capitol’s House office buildings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“When I’m up in Washington, I sleep in my office because I think this job is a public service, not a lifestyle,” Budd wrote in a tweet sharing his letter.
Budd said he understands the California Democrat’s position but he believes members are not putting themselves or their staff at more risk of contracting COVID-19 if they sleep in their offices.
The representative, whose district includes the Piedmont towns of Greensboro and Statesville, said he returns to North Carolina “as soon as possible, so I can spend more time with my family and remain in touch with the needs of my constituents in the 13th district.”
Speier, in her letter, pointed to recent reports that more than two dozen people who work in the complex tested positive for the coronavirus.
Members sleeping in their offices during the pandemic have a greater chance of exposure and exacerbate the public health risk, Speier said. She also mentions that even before the pandemic, office sleeping posed harassment concerns.
“It raises questions over impropriety and safety if staff members come to work early and stumble upon the member in pajamas or getting dressed. The legislative office belongs to the constituents, not the member,” Speier wrote. “More recently, the coronavirus demonstrates public health issues as another major reason to ban this practice.”
Budd pushed back on Speier’s suggestion that being in the House could put office sleepers at greater risk, saying that being able to stay in the Capitol allows for easier social distancing and limits contact with others.
“Add in the fact that the last several weeks have seen the House be in session for less than five days, which further lessens the chance for the spread of the virus,” he wrote.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 40 to 100 members sleep in their offices. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy once told People magazine that sleeping in his office comports with his demanding schedule and he catches showers in the House gym.
The annual compensation for most senators, representatives, delegates and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico is $174,000. Minority leaders earn $193,400.
But it’s not about the money for many members as much as it is about the perception of what it means to live in Washington. Critics say those living in their offices get free lodging, cable TV, security and cleaning services.
Prohibiting members from sleeping in their offices is a recurring issue that pops up from time to time. In 2018, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi introduced a bill to prohibit the practice.
The bill also would have granted members a tax deduction for living expenses to better afford to make second homes in Washington during the workweek while they’re away from their home districts. But it went nowhere in the chamber that was then controlled by noted office sleeper and former Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who pulled out a cot each night in his office in the Longworth Building.