Senate shuffle: Freshmen lawmakers face delays getting into office space

Freshman senators waiting to move into their permanent office space are facing a  month’s delay — and sequestration is the likely culprit.

More than 100 days into the 113th Congress, most of the new senators are still in temporary spaces.

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They were initially expected to be installed into their offices by May. But the Architect of the Capitol’s (AoC) office, which handles the moves, said they will be completed by mid-June.

The $80 billion in mandatory cuts to government spending affected the Capitol staff, which takes care of the maintenance, cleaning and upkeep of the complex. There were cutbacks on overtime, limits on new hiring and contracts that were either reduced or not issued.

When the cuts went into effect, the AoC said it would have to cut down on its “maintenance and operations programs,” according to a letter sent to employees and obtained by The Hill.

Freshman senators, who have the lowest seniority in the 100-member chamber, are the last to get moved into their offices. 

The start of each new Congress brings a shuffling of members, as lawmakers with seniority can opt to take the office space of exiting members and newly elected lawmakers have to wait to pick the remaining suites.

It is different in the House, where departing members had to be out of their offices shortly after the election — by Dec. 1. They were put into basement cubicles while the AoC did repair work and moved lawmakers office by office — up to eight moves a day. 

Senators, who occupy more space and stay for longer terms, have bigger office suites to prepare, which take more time.

And it’s not just freshmen who move. Other senators can opt to move offices, taking a better suite and location from a departing member. In the Russell Senate Office Building, for example, there was a sign on Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Overnight Defense: VA nominee on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for pick | Trump talks Syria with Macron | McConnell tees up Pompeo vote Schumer to oppose Pompeo as secretary of State MORE’s (R-Ky.) old office giving its new location.

Freshman senators have picked out their suites, and the offices are getting fresh coats of paint, new carpeting and repair work done before the members can move in.

The lawmakers are being housed in basement rooms and trailers as their suites are being prepared.

A recent walk through the second-floor hallway in the Russell building found furniture crowding the halls while the smell of paint drifted throughout the walkways. Inside an office suite, workers were painting walls and varnishing woodwork.

In the nearby Hart Senate Office Building, the seal from the state of Nebraska was hung outside a seventh-floor suite in preparation for Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Tariff fight could hit GOP in key Senate states Russia, China eclipse US in hypersonic missiles, prompting fears MORE’s (R-Neb.) arrival while maintenance staff worked inside.

Offices are picked by seniority, starting with the date a lawmaker was elected. For the freshman senators, their ranking was determined by previous experience in the House, in gubernatorial roles or even by a state’s population.

Seniority is a delicate matter and one of great importance. It decides committee assignments, office space and the highest-ranking member — in this case Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress should build on the momentum from spending bill Overnight Tech: Zuckerberg grilled by lawmakers over data scandal | What we learned from marathon hearing | Facebook hit with class action lawsuit | Twitter endorses political ad disclosure bill | Uber buys bike share Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg faces grilling in marathon hearing | What we learned from Facebook chief | Dems press Ryan to help get Russia hacking records | Top Trump security adviser resigning MORE (D-Vt.) — who serves as president pro tem and is in line for the presidency.

But it also works in mysterious ways.

For instance, Sen. Mo Cowan (D-Mass.) is 100th in seniority, having been sworn-in in February to replace John KerryJohn Forbes KerryMellman: Memories may be beautiful, yet… Lieberman: Senate should fulfill constitutional duty, confirm Mike Pompeo Overnight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit MORE, who became secretary of State. 

However, he occupies Kerry’s suite of senior office space, while Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDems demand end to waivers used to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage A new progressive standard on campaign cash: It can't come from corporations Kamala Harris will no longer accept corporate PAC money MORE (D-Mass.), the state’s senior senator, is in a trailer in the Russell building’s courtyard while she waits for her office space to be refurnished. 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who was appointed to replace the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, occupies Inouye’s senior office space in Hart while Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoFormer Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii dies at 93 Dems to top DOJ officials: Publicly promise not to interfere in Mueller's probe Zinke defends use of Japanese word: How could saying good morning 'be bad'? MORE (D-Hawaii) has a basement office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Schatz has more seniority than Hirono, however, because he was sworn-in in December and she took office in January.

Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinVulnerable Senate Dems have big cash advantages Dem senators unveil expanded public option for health insurance Dem senators call on FCC to protect against robocalls MORE (D-Wis.) is also in the trailer space in the Russell building. The prefabricated buildings take up most of the courtyard and are accessible from the inside. A red carpet leads from one of the side hallways into a space of low ceilings and dark corridors. 

Freshman senators say the lack of space isn’t impeding their work even with staff crammed into tight areas and conference rooms having to be arranged or borrowed for meetings.

“It’s part of the deal,” Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichTrump’s CIA pick facing brutal confirmation fight Dem senators unveil expanded public option for health insurance Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill MORE (D-N.M.) said. “It takes time for them to move everyone around. It certainly moves slower than is convenient, but I don’t think it’s an impediment to people being able to do their job. It really hasn’t been for us.”

He noted that “we had almost our full staff when we opened our office, and I think everyone knew what they were getting into their first four or five months.”

His office said they are moving into their space in the Hart building at the end of the month.

Freshman Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCambridge Analytica whistleblower briefs House Dems After Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp Cruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump MORE (R-Texas) even joked about it.

“The way the Senate operates is not the most efficient of processes. Although I joke, somewhat tongue in cheek, that it may have a little bit to do with freshman hazing as well,” he said.