Rep. Trey Gowdy is sleeping in his office. But he isn't trying to make a point.
"When people say they're living in their office, they want you to think of them as spartan," Gowdy (R-S.C.) said. "My situation is a little different. I haven't found a place I can afford."
In other words, he already has an appreciation for the city's affordable-housing issues. Call that a rare encouraging signal from the new Congress to the District of Columbia, whose leaders are wary of renewed scrutiny under the new Republican House majority.
Gowdy, a freshman, is the new chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on health care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives. As such, the former prosecutor inherits unofficial titles - "overseer," "overlord," "shadow mayor" - that his predecessors might well have earned. But he said those are words he is not comfortable with.
"I'm going to provide oversight. I'll do it fairly, I'll do it completely, but I'm not interested in being the mayor of the District of Columbia or the overlord or the overseer or whatever else they want to call it," he said Monday during an interview in his office/bedroom.
His predecessor as top Republican on the D.C. subcommittee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), sleeps on a cot in his office and tapes YouTube chats there, driving home that he isn't going to become part of Washington - even if part of his job was overseeing its governance.
Gowdy is striking a careful, humble tone, and whether that might be due to his unfamiliarity with the issues or his background as a federal and local prosecutor, it's clear that he has no intention of following his fellow South Carolinian, John L. McMillan (D), who lorded over the city in the 1960s and '70s.
"I was impressed with his approach, his open-mindedness," said the District's congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who met with Gowdy this week. "I sensed in him what every U.S. attorney wants the public to understand: I've got a lot of power, and I'm the fairest guy in town."
But, she added, "I don't have any illusions."
Hard to blame her. The new House has wasted little time in pursuing a hard line on District affairs.
On the first day of the Congress, the House voted to strip the District and other non-state jurisdictions of their largely symbolic vote in the Committee of the Whole . The second bill introduced by House Republicans, right after repeal of the health-care overhaul, would ban taxpayer money from funding abortions - not only federal taxpayer money but local District taxpayer money, too. A spending plan released by the influential Republican Study Committee last week suggested cutting $210 million in federal assistance to the District, which would slash schools funding and end a popular college tuition-assistance program. Then, this week, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) , the RSC's leader, told the Hill newspaper that he'd pursue legislation to stop same-sex marriages from being performed in the District. And on Wednesday, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill to permanently revive the private school voucher program that the Democratic Congress had allowed to expire.
"This can only be seen as a harbinger, and that's why we are preparing ourselves," said Norton, the District's now completely nonvoting representative to Congress.
Make no mistake, Gowdy is a conservative Republican. He is a co-sponsor of the pending abortion bill. On guns, Gowdy believes that federal firearms regulations provide a "sufficent number of safeguards for community safety" and that the District has no need to enact gun laws of its own. On gay marriage, Gowdy believes marriage is between a man and a woman. And on voting rights for the District, he hasn't given it much thought - but you'd best "make your case within the confines of the Constitution" if you want his support.
"I think the District of Columbia is different; it belongs to the United States," he said. "Having said that . . . there's a duality, and I don't expect that within my first three weeks in Congress to fully understand and appreciate and be able to navigate that duality."
Gowdy will also be navigating the broadness of his oversight brief, which has some hopeful that his committee won't be a locus for city meddling. He said that in his early talks with oversight committee staff, he'd hardly spoken about District issues, focusing instead on the vast landscape of health care.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), in a recent interview, expressed the hope of many city leaders - that ascendant conservative ideology would demand respect for local small-d democratic decisions, including the District's.
"For those people who say that the federal government should not inject itself into the affairs of state and local governments, we hope that that's observed," he said.
Gowdy said: "I understand his point. It might be a little more complicated than that."