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Halls of power(ball): New House members pick their offices via lottery

Incoming lawmakers groan and cheer through biennial tradition

Rep.-elect Max Miller, right, gets a congratulatory hug from Rep.-elect Andy Ogles on Friday morning. Miller drew the top pick in the office lottery, a tradition for incoming members of the House.
Rep.-elect Max Miller, right, gets a congratulatory hug from Rep.-elect Andy Ogles on Friday morning. Miller drew the top pick in the office lottery, a tradition for incoming members of the House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As an aide for Rep.-elect Nick LaLota approached the box that held numbered buttons and her office fate in its wooden confines, she pulled out her phone to play Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady.”

Lady Luck listened: She drew 20 for the New York Republican, a respectable spot among the 73 available at Friday’s biennial lottery for new House members.

It’s a lighthearted affair and an early indication of which newcomers are natural hams eager to perform in front of their new colleagues as they walk to the front of a packed hearing room to draw lots. The prize? A chance to pick the office space they will call home for the next two years.

Given these were mostly politicians — men and women who asked thousands of strangers for their money and votes to get here — shyness was in short supply.

There were big cheers when Rep.-elect Mike Ezell of Mississippi plucked No. 2 with an early pick, and an empathetic “aww” from the crowd when Rep.-elect Val Hoyle of Oregon drew 53. The groans led Architect of the Capitol Superintendent David Wilder, who presided over the drawing, to quip: “You guys know it goes to 73, right? She’s good.”

Rep.-elect Mike Ezell reacts after drawing his number in the office lottery, held in the Cannon Building on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Wilder had no bucking up to offer when Rep.-elect Anna Paulina Luna drew 71 a few picks later. “Oh my god, it’s terrible!” the Florida Republican shouted when she saw her number. No one disagreed.

The morning’s most comedic performance came appropriately from Mr. Bean — Rep.-elect Aaron Bean of Florida, that is. He dramatically drew his number without looking, holding it up high above him for the crowd to see before handing it to AOC staff. And after Wilder called out, “Mr. Bean selects 68,” Bean celebrated with fist pumps and high fives.

Members-elect cheered on the new friends they’ve made during their first few visits to the Capitol for freshman orientation, the millennial and Gen Z Democrats in particular. “Let’s go Summer!” They shouted as Pennsylvania’s Rep.-elect Summer Lee nabbed the sixth selection.

There are 74 members of this year’s freshman class, but Rep.-elect Jonathan Jackson of Illinois was a no-show, meaning he defaulted to the last pick. (Members could send aides in their stead, but no one piped up for Jackson during the roll call.) The real work began later Friday morning, with each member-elect choosing an office space from whatever options were left. That happened during designated 5-minute slots, like a slower, less exciting version of the NBA draft being held immediately after the draft pick lottery.

In a break from past lottos’ alphabetical tradition, the representatives-elect pulled their numbers one-by-one in a randomized order. In theory that randomization could have set the order for actually picking offices, but what would be the fun in that?

The Senate does it differently, allotting office choices by seniority. The ranking of each incoming senator is determined by previous government experience, with ties settled by whoever represents a more populous state. 

The freshmen tend to get stuck with the least desirable offices on the Hill, since returning members get first dibs on claiming vacancies caused by retirements and lost elections. But Wilder would take issue with that characterization. “I have been asked, ‘What is the best office on the Hill?’” he said at the start of the morning’s drawing. “I say the one you’ve been elected for. There is no bad office on the Hill.”

Rayburn, as always, is Capitol Hill’s most desirable address on the House side — none of the offices in that building were available to the incoming class. It’s partly because it’s the newest at a relatively sprightly 57 years old. But like all real estate, Rayburn’s appeal comes down to just three things: location, location, location.

Rep.-elect Andrea Salinas celebrates after drawing her lottery number on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

While Longworth might be ever so slightly closer to the House floor as the crow flies, Rayburn is the only House office building connected to the Capitol by subway. And to lawmakers who have to cram constituent meetings, fundraising calls and media interviews between votes, a faster commute matters more than any view, amenities or extra space.

While their options are limited, there are still tradeoffs to be made. Members can forgo a nice view for a bit more space, maybe even enough to squeeze in an extra desk for another intern. Some members who might have preferred a spot in Cannon might think twice, given that ongoing rehabilitation work will leave its east facade covered in scaffolding and noisy construction most of the coming term.

The morning’s big winner seemed like one of the least interested. With the 60th pick, Ohio Republican Max Miller landed the No. 1 spot. While Miller basked in the crowd’s applause for his dumb luck, afterward he said he didn’t really care.

“Honestly, this was the last thing on my mind,” he said. “I’ve been busy building out an office.”

So, with just an hour before he would have to make a selection, Miller said he would take a look at some offices and make a decision.

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