Of the 94 incoming members of the House of Representatives, 90% are Republicans, nearly 40% have law degrees and about 35% have never before held elective office.
Oh, and at least 15% plan to bed down in their congressional offices.
It’s the ultimate I’m-not-a-professional-politician statement, reminiscent of the 1994 midterm elections, when a GOP House takeover led to a surge in House sleepovers.
With voters again shunning Washington and fiscal excess, a number of incoming House members plan to demonstrate their scorn for both by camping out near their new desks. Many more are still undecided but may well join the sleep-sofa caucus.
“Since I’m here on a temporary basis, I don’t see any need to have a permanent kind of residence,” says Rep.-elect Joe Heck, a Nevada Republican, who was thinking roll-out cot when he looked at office space this month.
Earlier this month, freshman lawmakers drew lots and chose the three-room suites they and their aides will inhabit in one of three House office buildings.
For many of them, a key selling point was not proximity to the House chamber, where they’ll vote, but to the House gym, where they’ll shower.
Rep.-elect Tim Griffin, an Army reservist, stood near the gym in the Rayburn House Office Building and used some compass software on his phone to navigate the paths to potential offices.
“We want to get as close to Rayburn as possible,” Mr. Griffin, an Arkansas Republican, told an aide. “I’ve got to walk all the way down this hall in the morning.”
He settled on a suite in the Longworth building with plenty of space for the six-foot sofa he says will be his bed for the foreseeable future. “I don’t want to see you in your bathrobe,” Rep.-elect Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), a non-office sleeper, told Mr. Griffin as freshmen rushed about Capitol Hill looking at available offices.
Mr. Griffin plans to fly home to Arkansas and his family after the last vote each week.
Nobody seems to know for certain how many lawmakers currently dwell in their offices; estimates range into the dozens. The practice appears to crest after Republican wave elections.
In the mid-1980s, then-Speaker Tip O’Neill (D., Mass.) rousted the office sleepers, including Texas Republican Dick Armey, who later became House majority leader and is now a booster of the anti-Washington tea-party rebellion. “The theory was the offices weren’t for sleeping,” says Stan Brand, who was House general counsel at the time. “They were for transacting business.”
Mr. Armey moved out briefly, then quietly started sleeping on his office couch again, according to a former aide.
After Republicans took the House in 1994, ending four decades of Democratic control, the number of office sleepers grew. The new speaker in 1995, Georgian Newt Gingrich, gave the practice his blessing.
House administrators supply desks, files, tables and chairs for the suites, each of which has a toilet and sink.
Overnighters have to buy their own air mattresses or cots. They can also stretch out on a government-issue couch. “We don’t provide any Murphy beds,” says Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol.
Cleaners do their work early enough in the evening, she says, that they shouldn’t interfere with snoozing congressmen.
The class of 2010 is arriving in Washington during the worst economic crisis since the Depression, carried into town atop a surge of anti-incumbent anger that swept many longtime Capitol denizens aside. For them, appearances and substance merge.
Freshman Todd Rokita (R., Ind.) was floored when shown a 600-square-foot, $2,000-a-month studio. He’ll sleep in his office instead. “I’m not doing this as a political stunt,” he says. “I’m doing this because I’m a cheap b-.” Most House members earn $174,000 a year and maintain homes in their districts.
“I don’t want to be comfortable in Washington because I need to get back to metro Detroit,” says Democrat Clarke Hansen, another office sleeper-elect. “Businesses are struggling right now. Families are struggling. I’m only in Washington to work.”
One veteran sofa extremist is Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who has camped out in his office two or three nights a week since 1993. In his failed run for Michigan’s governorship this year, he put out an ad showing him sitting on his couch in his plaid pajamas. Now he’s retiring, and hundreds of his constituents have let his successor, Republican Bill Huizenga, know they expect him to sleep on the sofa, too.
“I think back home there’s a sense of frugality and sort of a spartan element that this isn’t a place where you’re going to call home and get too comfortable,” says Mr. Huizenga. Still, he’s a bit cautious. He’s six-foot-one, and the Hoekstra couch is just six feet long. Maybe an inflatable mattress, he thinks.
Many freshmen, who assume their duties in January, are still pondering their sleeping arrangements. Others have no intention of sleeping on a sofa.
“I’ve slept in pup tents,” says Congressman-elect Allen West (R., Fla.), a former Army artillery officer. “I’m not sleeping in my office.”
GOP Rep.-elect Steve Womack, the mayor of Rogers, Ark., says he doesn’t want to impose on his staff if they stay past his bedtime or arrive before his alarm rings. “I don’t think my staff wants to see me in my pajamas necessarily,” Mr. Womack says. “And I’m not the prettiest thing to look at first thing in the morning.”
Rep.-elect Joe Walsh (R., Ill.) says he’ll live in his office. His wife, interior designer Helene Miller-Walsh, says he won’t. Mr. Walsh thinks it’s easier to live near his desk. Ms. Miller-Walsh thinks it’s unhealthy to never leave it.
“When I come to stay, I’m not walking around in fuzzy slippers in the office,” she says. Then there’s the whole image thing. “I just can’t tell my college-age kids that mom and dad moved back into the dorm,” she says. Mr. Walsh has yet to decide where to sleep.