For the nearly two dozen House members who not only work, but live, in the Capitol, things could get dirty if Congress and the White House aren’t able to hammer out a budget deal by midnight Friday.
Those members’ offices would remain open if the government shuts down this weekend. But the members-only gymnasium in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building, where many members who live in the Capitol take their daily shower, would be shuttered, according to House Administration Committee spokeswoman Salley Wood.
As a potential shutdown loomed less than a day and a half away on Thursday afternoon, some of those overnight denizens of the Capitol had begun making contingency plans.
One option is for members to seek out other showers hidden in Capitol restrooms, such as one in the men’s bathroom in the sub-basement of the Cannon tunnel, which links the House’s Longworth and Cannon Office Buildings.
That’s the option preferred by Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.), a freshman who lives in his office on the third floor of the Longworth House Office Building. Kim Bowman, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said that Clarke would probably end up using the Cannon tunnel restroom shower or go to another gym nearby.
Another possibility is to leave the confines of the Capitol altogether and crash at a friend’s place. That’s the route Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), a freshman who lives one floor down from Clarke on the second floor of the Longworth building, plans to take if a shutdown happens.
“Representative Huizenga is more concerned about whether the troops get paid than where he is showering,” Huizenga’s spokeswoman, Lauren Phillips, said Thursday. “He hopes to be at home this weekend as the House schedule dictated. However, if Senator Reid insists on a shutdown, he’s been invited to stay with a colleague.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has lived in his Capitol office since winning election three years ago, said Thursday that he might seek out the local YMCA if the government grinds to a halt.
“Or maybe Senator Reid will let me borrow some soap and suds up at his suite at the Ritz,” Chaffetz added in a jab at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Ritz-Carlton when he is in Washington.
The last time the government shut down in the mid-1990s, the House gym was shuttered — but it was quickly reopened after an outcry from angry members, who complained to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), according to a November 1995 Roll Call report. The Attending Physician of the Capitol also lobbied for the gym to remain open, arguing that members ought to be able to exercise to stay healthy and ward off stress, Roll Call reported.
The 1995 account made no mention of the gym shower, however, and although no formal tally is kept, it seems likely that more lawmakers are now living on the Capitol grounds in order to make their anti-Washington point than were a decade and a half ago.
Even with the possibility of being left high and dry by the weekend, some members who live in the Capitol hadn’t given much thought – publicly, at least — to the issue as of Thursday afternoon.
“My hygienic arrangements are unimportant compared to the real issues and sacrifices at stake,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said in a statement.
Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.