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Better Lighting, Some History: Freshman Senators Move In Better Lighting, Some History: Freshman Senators Move In

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Better Lighting, Some History: Freshman Senators Move In


Empty boxes sit outside Senator Marco Rubio's new office in the Hart Senate Office Building on Friday, April 22, 2011.(Chet Susslin)

It’s been months since the freshman Senate class took office, just not the offices they wanted. This week, that changes.

Since January, newcomers to the Senate have been working out of temporary trailers and windowless basements waiting to pick out their permanent workspace. Finally, moving week is upon them, and the senators and their staffs are more than a little excited. For some, it’s about pride, moving into an office with a rich history. For others, nothing beats a little natural light.


For Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the move into his office in the Russell Office Building has historical resonance. As a former history teacher, Blunt knew it was once inhabited by two other U.S. senators from Missouri: Harry Truman and Kit Bond. In fact, Truman even kept the space while he was serving as vice president from January 20 until April 12, 1945. Truman then was president until 1953.

“It’s safe to say that we’re pleased to be out of the windowless basement, and Senator Blunt and his staff are excited to continue working on behalf of Missourians in this historic space,” said Amber Marchand, a spokeswoman for Blunt.

Blunt did his homework. According to The Examiner in Independence, Mo., the senator toured the Truman Library this week for a “behind the scenes look” at Truman’s World War I memorabilia, an inaugural top hat, and photos and other records.


And though the two leaders have different political ideologies (Truman, for example, was a proponent of a larger government role in health care), Blunt hailed the former president's "tenacity, his self-education, and his courage to do difficult things."

"It’s a tremendous honor, and I’m proud to be part of that legacy,” Blunt said in a statement to National Journal.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also has a connection to previous occupants of his new Hart office: Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., are like Rubio, Cuban Americans who have served in the Senate. And Martinez, like Rubio, even represented Florida.

“It was just a nice coincidence,” said spokesman Alex Burgos. “Senator Rubio is 95th in seniority, so by the time we got to pick our office it was pretty slim pickings.”


Burgos said the staff is now mostly moved in and find it far preferable to basement dwelling.

“Sure, being put in the basement was part of the charm of being an incoming senator,” he said. “But we have a lot more meeting space, so we don’t have to stand in the hallway for meetings and don’t have to listen to all the noise that comes with being right next to a freight elevator and across from the stationary office.”

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., knows of no luminaries who may have worked in his 320 Hart location, which he is taking over from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. Boozman said while he likes Franken, his will be "a very different presence" in the office.

But Boozman says it's a relief to leave his trailer in the Russell courtyard that made him feel like a transient.

"I never really felt settled," Boozman told National Journal.

Christine Mangi, a spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said she knows little about who else inhabited their new digs in Russell 343. What she does know, however, is that it certainly beats the Dirksen basement.

“I can’t tell you how great it is to have windows,” Mangi told NJ.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some things to miss. Like an initiation into a fraternity or a sorority, the uncomfortable and crowded working conditions in Dirksen did allow for some strong relationships to flourish. Now, with more space and more rooms, coworkers won't be as near.

“It’s kind of a little sad,” she said. “Now I’m going to have to wonder what my colleagues are up to in the other room, instead of just being with them 10 hours a day…. But it’s worth it for the windows.”

Why does it take so long, you might ask, for senators to move into their official offices? Boozman, who moved over from the House, sums it up best.

"In the House it only takes 20 minutes after an election until they are chiseling the old name off the door and trying to get someone new inside," he said. "But for the Senate, it's just like everything else. It's got to be a little more deliberate, and take a lot more time."

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