The power grabs that play out in the corridors of Wall Street and at Hollywood studios are showing up in Congress as the ousting of Kevin McCarthy prompts a reshuffle of some prime office space in the US Capitol.
No speaker has before been voted out of office, and questions abound about what’s next. But one thing was immediately clear, at least to interim speaker Patrick McHenry: McCarthy has rights to a first-floor speaker emeritus hideaway occupied by his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.
The usually affable North Carolina Republican, inflamed by the ouster of his long-time political ally, swiftly evicted Pelosi from the unmarked room. Steny Hoyer, Pelosi’s long-time No 2, also got the boot from his own unofficial digs in the Capitol.
The quick moves by McHenry, who essentially is serving a caretaker role until the House elects a new speaker, underscore that these rooms – which predate the actual House office buildings across the street – remain coveted property.
They are the spaces inside the US Capitol for political plotting, naps, card games and rumoured other, more personal business, found behind nondescript, unmarked doors as hideaways for powerful lawmakers.
Sometimes these rooms are given nicknames that have changed over the years. “The Doghouse”. “Cabinet Room”. “Sanctum sanctorum”.
Or – the most storied – “the Board of Education Room”, where author Bess Furman, once wrote, “political horse trading, and liquid refreshment flowed”.
Harry Truman, a former Senator, was in the Board of Education with then Speaker Sam Rayburn in 1945 and had just poured himself a drink when a call came in telling him he was needed at the White House. President Franklin Roosevelt had died.
There is no indication that Pelosi or Hoyer were using these spaces as dens of anything but valid legislative business. But Pelosi did use her power as speaker to toss former vice-president Mike Pence from his hideaway – just around the corner from her own – in 2019, two years after leaving office.
Some see McHenry’s decision as pay back. Others see it as merely business as usual.
“The office that Pelosi currently occupies is the office of the preceding speaker,” McCarthy ally Garret Graves explained. McCarthy, he said, is now the “preceding speaker” and can lay claim to the office.
Graves insisted Pelosi only has herself to blame. After all, if she and other Democrats had supported McCarthy, she’d still be the most recent former speaker.
The first of these hideaways was given to former speaker Joseph Cannon in the 1920s. Other senior lawmakers began claiming their own spaces – often windowless “box rooms”.
But what many of these offices lacked in views, they made up for in privacy, a stark contrast from the busy flow of lobbyists and tourists in lawmakers’ ceremonial offices.
And the more senior the lawmaker, the better the digs – and often the closer the proximity to the House or Senate chamber. Senator Ted Kennedy’s hideaway was adorned with stunning architecture, artwork and views of the Washington mall, recalls one-time aide Jim Manley.
“I’m taking it with me,” former senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut told Roll Call in 2011 of his plum hideaway.
The hideaway Pelosi’s vacating is just one floor below the chamber and has south-facing windows.
While maybe not as nice as a corner suite, those perks amount to luxury in the 230-year-old Capitol.
“Office space doesn’t matter to me, but it seems to be important to them,” Pelosi said of Republicans.
“Now that the new Republican leadership has settled this important matter, let’s hope they get to work on what’s truly important for the American people.”