WASHINGTON — Some see it as a proud tradition, some see it as inappropriate and gross. Either way, members of Congress sleeping in their offices may soon come to an end.
The Committee on House Administration will publicly study the issue, said chair Zoe Lofgren. It’s not the committee’s first priority, but “there’ll be a public process,” Lofgren said.
There’s momentum among House Democrats to ban members from taking up residence in their offices: The leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus called Tuesday for the practice to come to a swift end. They join the Congressional Black Caucus, which collectively called for it to be banned last year.
They argue the practice is unprofessional, potentially discriminatory, and an inappropriate use of taxpayer-funded resources that turns office cleaning staff into de facto house cleaners.
There is no official count of how many members choose to live in their office. Progressive Caucus cochair Mark Pocan said he heard as many as 80 members did so in the previous Congress that ended in January. Others told BuzzFeed News the number might have been over 100.
The so-called in-office caucus has included high-profile members, like former speaker Paul Ryan and current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Members typically sleep on a cot, sofa, or air mattress and shower in the House gym. Quite often, these members boast about the practice to voters as a sign of their frugality. All House offices have a distinct chamber for members that is separated from the staff area by a door.
Other members denounce the practice as inappropriate and flat-out weird. Some have raised concerns that staffers or cleaning staff could unwittingly walk in on a member in a state of undress. “In this era of Me Too I just think we have to take this really, really seriously,” said Progressive Caucus cochair Pramila Jayapal.
Pocan said he has heard rumors of offices where male staffers are allowed to come in to work earlier than women staffers, out of fear that they would stumble across their male boss in his underwear.
If office living is banned, one question to sort out is whether members should receive some sort of allowance toward maintaining a second home in the DC area. Giving more money to politicians is never a popular move, but some members argue it’s necessary for the nonrich to do the job.
“I think we have to address it,” said Pocan. “Especially talking to some of the younger members with young families. When a member doesn’t have money to put down for an apartment we’ve got a real issue to address.”
For many members, the issue is moot because they are independently wealthy. A 2018 analysis found 4 out of 10 members of Congress were millionaires. But others have their Congressional salaries of $174,000 — which has been frozen for a decade — to pay for homes in their district and near the Capitol. The freeze has put a strain on the nonwealthy specifically, said Rep. Hank Johnson.
“Some might see a grand scheme to make it unaffordable for Mr. Smith to come to Washington so that only Mr. — what’s a rich name? Farenthold, Moneybanks — can come to Congress,” he said.
Democrats did mull killing the practice already, in a rules package passed at the beginning of November. But Rules Committee chair Jim McGovern said there wasn’t enough time to properly study it. “There’s a lot more involved than just saying that. How do you enforce it? Are there extenuating circumstances?” he said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office did not return a request for comment as of deadline.