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

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The U.S. Capitol is among the most beautifully appointed buildings in America with crystal chandeliers, white marble staircases offset by plush, wood-paneled hearing rooms. In lawmakers' offices, you'll find mahogany desks, cushy sofas. Well, in some of them anyway. This year, with a bumper crop of new senators, some freshmen are finding their office space subpar.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook takes us on a little tour.

ANDREA SEABROOK: 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.

(Soundbite of subway)

SEABROOK: Get off at the Dirksen office building

(Soundbite of door closing)

SEABROOK: Go up an escalator and then down a staircase.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

SEABROOK: Make your way through the basement cafeteria…

(Soundbite of cafeteria)

SEABROOK: …and into a long hallway, walk past the night superintendent's office and the linen cleaning division around a corner through the plastic curtain and out onto a loading dock. Walk past the Senate Stationery Room, the upholstery division and the woodworking shop, through another plastic curtain, and a set of heavy double doors.

(Soundbite of doors closing)

SEABROOK: And voila, welcome to your new Senate office.

New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall is here. He used to be a member of the House. So is coming to the Senate a step up?

Senator TOM UDALL (Democrat, New Mexico): This is a step up here? You got to be kidding me. This is like a hazing.

SEABROOK: 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.

Ms. MARISSA PADILLA (Congressional Staffer): It's amazing what being in a basement for long hours and periods of time can do to people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And somebody did spot a mouse.

SEABROOK: Marissa Padilla works for Colorado's new Senator Mark Udall, Tom's cousin. Padilla leans up against a doorway talking with Tara Trujillo. She works for Tom Udall down the hall.

Ms. TARA TRUJILLO (Congressional Staffer): There has been a couple of roaches who wandered over.

Ms. PADILLA: Ooh, cockroaches on the weekend, yeah. And they don't survive. They're not alive by Monday.

Ms. TRUJILLO: They're greeted by shrieks from the staff members sitting out in the - wherever they may be running. So, it's an adventure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PADILLA: It is an adventure.

SEABROOK: The reason some of these Senators are buried in the basement? Well, there are just so many new ones - 13 new senators so far this year - eleven Democrats and two Republicans. We're still waiting to see if Minnesota will add another to that list. With so much turnover, it takes awhile for the former senators to move out of the normal, more attractive offices, so the newbies are stashed all over Capitol Hill, waiting.

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

Sen. UDALL: You know, if you go through something that's a terrible experience together, it builds esprit de corps, it builds teamwork. That's a good thing. You know, they're getting to know each other.

SEABROOK: It'll be interesting to see if their shared ordeal makes for a freshman class that has close relationships.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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