Some Senators Settle Into New (And Dingy) Digs The U.S. Capitol is among the most glamorous buildings in the country, but freshman senators' first offices are amid the basement's boiler rooms and repair shops, a long and convoluted walk from the actual Senate chambers.

Some Senators Settle Into New (And Dingy) Digs

Some Senators Settle Into New (And Dingy) Digs

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The U.S. Capitol is among the most beautifully appointed buildings in America, with crystal chandeliers, white marble staircases and plush, wood-paneled hearing rooms. Lawmakers' offices house mahogany desks and soft sofas. But this isn't the case for the newest freshman senators, many of whom are finding their office space subpar.

Imagine you're one of the freshman Democrats in the Senate. You've just cast a vote on the floor, and you need to get back to your office. Here's what you do:

  • Board the underground subway;
  • Get off at the Dirksen Office building;
  • Go up an escalator then down a staircase;
  • Make your way through the basement cafeteria and into a long hallway;
  • Walk past the night superintendent's office, then the linen cleaning division;
  • Walk around a corner, through a plastic curtain and out onto a loading dock;
  • Walk past the Senate stationery room, the upholstery division and the woodworking shop;
  • Go through another plastic curtain and a set of heavy double doors ... and voila!

Welcome to your new Senate office.

This is the office of New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall, who formerly was a member of the House. So is coming to the Senate a step up?

"This a step up here?" Udall asks rhetorically. "You gotta be kidding me! This is like a hazing!"

The banks of fluorescent lights show off the drop ceiling and windowless walls. Desks are packed in — row after row in a little maze of squat rooms that house five new Democratic senators and their staffs.

"It's amazing what being in a basement for long hours and periods of time can do to people," says Marissa Padilla, who works for Colorado's new senator, Mark Udall — Tom's cousin. "And somebody did spot a mouse."

Padilla is leaning up against a doorway talking with Tara Trujillo, who works for Tom Udall down the hall.

"There have been a couple of roaches — cockroaches on the weekend," Trujillo says. "Yeah, they don't survive. They're not alive by Monday — they're greeted by shrieks from the staff members sitting out in the wherever they may be running. So, it's an adventure. It is an adventure."

These senators are buried in the basement because there are so many new ones — 13 so far this year. That's 11 Democrats and two Republicans. And with so much turnover, it takes some time for the former senators to move out of the normal, more attractive offices. So the new ones are stashed all over Capitol Hill, waiting.

Tom Udall says if there is an upside to this, it's that his staff is becoming tightly knit.

"You know, if you go through something that's a terrible experience together, it builds esprit de corps — it builds teamwork — and that's a good thing, and I think they're getting to know each other," he says.