Downpour dampens carpets, not spirits on Capitol Hill

If anyone thought Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s office was the leakiest on the Hill, those suspicions were confirmed Sunday night as torrential rains flooded the Illinois Democrat’s second-floor office at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The leak, which inundated surrounding offices too, was just one instance of the havoc created on Capitol Hill by recent record rainfall.

Ceiling tiles crashed down on staffers’ desks at the House Republican Conference. Water doused the Legislative Resource Center in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building. Rain kept hundreds of staffers and lawmakers from arriving at work on time Monday. House leaders canceled Monday night’s scheduled floor votes after more than 65 members of Congress indicated they would not be able to attend.

The deluge was not without an amusing coincidence: It came just as the House began debate over changes to a federal flood-insurance program.

The DCCC was perhaps the worst hit. A drainage pipe deposited so much water on Emanuel’s balcony Sunday that water began seeping through the door. When staffers arrived Monday morning, they found standing water over much of the floor. Around mid-morning, rainwater seeped into an electrical outlet in DCCC Executive Director Karin Johanson’s office sparking an “electrical issue,” said DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg. Staffers were forced to leave the building for several hours while clean-up crews came in.

The flood came within days of the end of the second quarter fundraising period, a particularly busy time for political committees, but Feinberg said the deluge did not dampen their spirits.

“No one died. No one got sick. A little water has not hurt anything,” she said.

Emanuel’s basement apartment in Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-Conn.) Capitol Hill home escaped flooding, but the barrage of rain did delay trains back from his Philadelphia campaign stop, forcing him to share a rental car with Reps. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.).

While the DCCC was mopping up Monday, its GOP rival, the National Republican Congressional Committee, was using its blog to plug Vermont congressional candidate Martha Rainville.

Republicans quipped that the rain was “washing away” Democrats’ election hopes, but the downpours proved bipartisan. Overflowing rain drains at Cannon knocked down ceiling tiles at the second-floor offices of the House Republican Conference.

“A ceiling tile fell on my desk,” conference spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said; it came to rest atop her keyboard, mouse and some papers.

Sodden ceiling tiles and flooding displaced four people in the office.

“I was a little shocked, but at the end of the day it’s no big deal. It didn’t rain on my parade. As long I can talk, I can do my job!” Hamel joked.

Off the Hill, the rains flooded many an English basement.

Nathan Blumenthal, a press assistant for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), was heading to bed Monday night when he discovered a soggy patch of carpet in his Capitol Hill basement apartment. The water eventually consumed a fourth of the apartment, he said.

“It has a history of flooding, but it was recently redone and that wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m glad recess is next week,” he added, noting that he has cleaning up to do.

Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) chief of staff, Mac Zimmerman, had a harrowing evening Sunday night making his way home from Georgetown. He and a friend had to abandon their car on Route 1 in Alexandria after floodwaters closed off the roadway.

“We knew we were in trouble when police trucks passed us pulling boats,” he recalled. The two crawled up onto a temporary barrier to escape the waters and then made their way onto an unfinished roadway to continue home by foot.

When the pair at last arrived at Zimmerman’s basement apartment at 1:30 a.m., “the first thing I was greeted with was a squishy carpet,” he said. They bicycled back to the car the following morning.

Jon Brandt, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee, said the House office buildings fared well in comparison to other government facilities.

“All things considered, we’re in very good shape. We have only minor damage around the campus,” he said.

Several public-access computers at the Legislative Resource Center (LRC) have been taken offline while cleanup crews remove surrounding water. But LRC public-disclosure documents, which include travel, disbursement and financial-disclosure reports, were undamaged and can still be viewed by request.

The drencher did not affect several lawmakers who occupy basement apartments. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was dry, spokesman Kevin Madden said. Rep. Charlie Dent’s (R-Pa.) chief of staff, George McElwee, said he had received “no reports” of problems at the congressman’s subterranean abode. Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) basement accommodations escaped the storm.

One bit of good news for members of Congress came via the Department of Justice, which has been conducting a wide-ranging corruption investigation reportedly targeting a bevy of Capitol Hill lawmakers. Flooding has closed the department’s Constitution Avenue building for the rest of the week, although essential personnel continue to work offsite.