They Are Like Rats: New Hidden Digs For Senators

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer Laurie Kellman, Associated Press Writer – Fri Jan 15, 1:05 pm ET

An office room is under renovation on the Senate Terrace level of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 4, 2010. For the first time, all 100 members of the Senate will have their own cloistered hideaways in the U.S. Capitol,traditionally a coveted mark of seniority and clout that lowly freshmen could only dream about. This year, even junior senators will get their own private, unmarked offices that are a convenient few steps from the Senate chamber. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – Shhhhhhh. The perks of Senate membership just got sweeter. For the first time, all 100 members of the chamber will have their own cloistered hideaways in the U.S. Capitol, traditionally a coveted mark of seniority and clout that lowly freshmen could only dream about.

This year, even junior senators will get their own private, unmarked offices that are a convenient few steps from the Senate chamber.

The addition of a dozen or so newly renovated rooms in the bowels of the Capitol represents a cultural shift in the custom-bound institution, made possible by moving a Capitol Police facility from the building’s basement into the new, $621 million Capitol Visitor Center. The vacated space inside the Capitol’s West Front made room for even shunned members of the Senate — Illinois Democrat Roland Burris, for example — and freshmen minority Republicans to move in.

While both parties make claims and counterclaims about openness in government, some things never change. The first rule of Senate hideaways: Only senators talk about them. And then, selectively and only about their own.

The only ways to know who occupies which office are to be invited in, witness a senator entering or exiting, or see a home-state newspaper lying outside the door in the morning. The hush-hush tradition creates sanctuaries for legislative work and meetings, as well as less official business — maybe even a nap.

Hideaways occupy ancient nooks on all four floors of the historic building and are institutions within an institution and one of the last vestiges of non-partisanship in an increasingly divided chamber. The most senior senators get first dibs on the best quarters, regardless of party.

They bear room numbers but no names. Some are hidden in plain sight, along corridors used by thousands of unknowing tourists. The portals to others hide beyond massive statues. Still others are crammed in the spaces around rotundas, or at the ends of hallways with multiple sets of stairs. Many can’t be found without a guide.

Those occupied by such senior senators as Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., tend to be grand affairs, with bathrooms, fireplaces, chandeliers and million-dollar views of the Washington and Lincoln Memorials or the Supreme Court.

The newly renovated basement hideaways feature no such frills. These offices and some of their blueprints, examined by The Associated Press over the past year, reveal rooms that tend to be around 300 square feet, with low ceilings, no windows or bathrooms, and furnished with stock Senate tables and chairs. One such space, to be occupied by second-term Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is cramped with a desk, sofa and small conference table.

The last two basement hideaways to be renovated have just received a soft yellow coat of paint. A few doors down, a couch sits still covered in plastic, awaiting its new occupant.

No one will talk about how much the taxpayers are spending to create the new offices. The famously discreet Senate Rules Committee, which distributes hideaways and handles all related matters, refused comment. A spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol’s office, which performs the renovations, referred a reporter to the Rules Committee.

Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the most camera-friendly members of the Senate, declined an interview request on the subject. Ranking Republican Bob Bennett of Utah did not respond to a similar request. Two requests for comment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who by tradition would be aware of the changes, went unanswered by his usually responsive press office.

And so on.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having hideaways. It’s a long-standing tradition,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a private watchdog group.

It might even be more fair for every senator to have one, rather than just the longest-serving members, she added. But refusing to talk about how much is being spent on them, when it probably would have been spent anyway to repurpose the space, is “secrecy for its own sake,” she said. “They make it seem worse than it probably is.”

Discretion about hideaways is a courtesy senators expect of each other, one that some believe is more important than the public’s right to know.

Rightly or wrongly, hideaways carry the image of unseemly privilege paid for by taxpayers. They have famously been used for business beyond the legislative sort, spaces “highly coveted by the powerful, and particularly by the playful,” Bobby Baker, an aide to Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote in his book, “Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator.”

With three Senate office buildings to house staffs for constituent services — and subways to shuttle senators virtually across the street for votes — no senator can claim to really need a Capitol hideaway.

Schumer may have his own reasons for keeping mum. If he wants to be Senate majority leader someday, a discreet performance as Rules Committee’s chairman would be required. Handing out office space and quietly making colleagues comfortable is a well-worn stop on the ladder to higher Senate posts.

The desire for private office space inside the Capitol dates back to the building’s origins, when senators’ offices were their desks on the chamber floor, according to Senate Historian Don Ritchie. Over the years, separate office buildings across the street went up to provide space for senators and their staffs to work.

As space in the Capitol became available, it was quietly awarded to senators by seniority. By early last year, the Rules Committee had found hideaways for as many as 90 senators, and none turned it down, said four officials familiar with the developments who demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The remaining senators will get the keys to their own hideaways early this year, if they haven’t received them already, these officials said.

They won’t be stuck in the basement forever. Hideaways vacated by death or defeat of sitting senators become available at the beginning of each two-year Congress. Up for grabs will be the ultimate Senate hideaway: the third-floor corner suite occupied for decades by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died in August.


11 responses to “They Are Like Rats: New Hidden Digs For Senators

  1. Their “own cloistered hideaways” in the U.S. Capitol, with unmarked doors? Are these little getaways where they will go when the tea party people come to visit? Will they be unavailable? Is this where Union members will meet secretly to make some more deals? Who is paying for all of this renovation?

    Was this part of the stimulus bill? How many jobs were created or saved with this gem that they aren’t willing to share with the People that own that building? Should the people start charging them rent? Do they need two offices to get their business accomplished? Somebody better start talking.

  2. The Rats are building their nests on the taxpayers dime during economic decline! No wonder they are silent.

    • Those Senators want to hide from their constituents, those cowards. They can invite their “special guests” to their hidden digs for rest and relaxation, hanky panky, a short visit from the guy doing lines in the white House and maybe a food delivery. Their staff need never know.

  3. Thinking…
    The stench.

    Washington DC Underground

    Congratulations on Your New Secret Suite, Senator!

    No effin way. Yes You Won’t. (Nada, @ ESL persons)

  4. And,


    Cockroach Bunkers for US Reps on the Haunted Hill.
    Rent Free; Public Servants Quarters on the Public Dime.

    Squatters on Capitol disperse when the lights come on.

    Yeah? When Niagra Falls. Hyuk hyuk.

    In their RICO dreams.

  5. No, this is for the “Iranian” nuclear attack on
    NYC and DC.

    They get to survive.
    To institue emergency rule under the
    Council of Governors.

    We have to hope Irael screws up his evil plan.

    This is, I think, the year.

    • Do you think this is a “protected bunker area?” You know what I mean, it protects them and is reinforced in some way against nuclear fallout? Just the idea of nuclear war freaks me out Dave.

      Also, I read the Governors Council is illegal as Governors aren’t allowed to hold two positions at the same time.
      The Council of Governors is the back way around allowing Federal troops to operate in the US. I think this info is on another thread, National Stability Force or perhaps the Terror Train. Will check.

  6. freaks me out too,
    but there won’t be a full blown war,
    Two or three devices will explode in America. Iran is to get the blame.
    The devices probably won’t be from Iran but you see why it is so important
    that Iran gets to have the bomb.
    They can’t be the fall guy if they are stopped.

    Yes, I do think those are underground bunkers.
    They would be useless against any serious hydrogen bomb, but the military
    analysis of a small, 1-5 kiloton device exploded at street level is not that
    devastating, by which I mean fewer than 100,000 deaths, and yes those
    bunkers will allow the “senators” to survive.

    Debka is saying 2010 is the year.
    I hope we are both wrong.

  7. Still saying No to this. Senators are public elected officials who have no right to breach their campaign promises or dismiss their Oath to the people and our Constitution a minute later…

    The Capitol is not a Palace and they are not royalty and, not entitled to private chambers.

    No Lounging.

    They’re lucky to have the grand and prestigous Offices they’re given filled to the gills with staff as well as their benefits.

    Let’s bag Obamacare “Health Care” Reform. (btw, he makes me ill.)

    And instead, let’s all work on Government Reform.
    Revisit Separation of Powers and dumb stuff like that.

    These people need a job description, approved expenses and negotiate their
    Benefits. Limit 4 years tops, so no gold watch. Relatives need not apply, it would be a conflict.
    Construct the Suites for Guests, like your States’s Auditor General for when she or he is in town which should be often.

    These people have no right to hunker down and bunk-in so they don’t have to be in public. ROFL! Schmucks. They need
    Time Cards, too.
    They’re giving aid and comfort to our enemies on our Soil while they set up to go ‘to mattress’ in their chic holes?

    Its most reavealing, so we”re lucky to know about it.

    Maybe the Sun will come out tomorrow–
    –If Scott Brown is elected, we can say, “We won, get over it.”. USA! USA! USA! Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing? And ever so timely.

  8. Common Good, Pubiic Welfare, Social Justice, Deficit Reduction are all Communistic Terms. Take it from an uneducated wordsmith.

    The Harrah Experiment,
    You’re OK, I’m OK. Erich Fromm reminds me of J, unstructions for the perfect blow job, and Woody Allen. Its all good people. Strawberry Papers, Better to be cool. And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus blah blah blah, blah blah blah,

    The enenmy has reared his ugly head. Listen, Hear the Bull?
    America could be solvent in a NY minute,if we wanted,

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