After Republican leaders booted Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer from their Capitol hideaway offices this week, some saw it as a step to punish Democrats for refusing to save Kevin McCarthy as his speakership went up in flames.
Lawmakers have repeatedly turned their workplace into a political battleground in recent years, clashing over security measures installed after the mob attack of Jan. 6, 2021, such as razor-wire perimeters around the Capitol campus or metal detectors outside the House chamber.
But this time the squabbling was about something a little less momentous — plum office space in the Capitol afforded to certain former House leaders as a perk.
Pelosi was told Tuesday night, shortly after the historic vote to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speakership, that she needed to clear out her office the next day, as first reported by Politico. Hoyer’s staff confirmed Wednesday morning that he had also been evicted from his hideaway.
High-ranking Republicans, meanwhile, have been mostly mum since issuing the orders. Speaker pro tempore Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., on Wednesday evaded reporters on Capitol Hill, and McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment.
But Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., a close ally of McCarthy, told reporters that the move was one of logistics, not retaliation.
“The deal is … the office that Pelosi is in right now is the office of the preceding speaker. Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats determined that they wanted a new preceding speaker, and it’s Kevin McCarthy,” Graves said.
“So I don’t know what they’re complaining about. They created this situation,” Graves continued.
The office space that Pelosi is vacating is not necessarily reserved for former speakers, though the California Democrat had been using it this Congress. Only certain top House members have the luxury of using offices in the Capitol itself, while all members get space in the buildings farther out in the campus. The eviction order affects only Pelosi’s and Hoyer’s hideaways, not their regular offices.
The House was in a liminal state Wednesday, a day after a rebellious bloc of Republicans partnered with Democrats to oust McCarthy, who became the first speaker to be removed by a floor vote. Republicans scrambled to reorganize, but a vote to select a new speaker is not expected until next week.
Meanwhile, the hideaway evictions made an easy target for Democrats, who mocked Republican leaders for worrying about office space instead of more pressing questions, like how the House would continue to function.
“Pretty much the Congressional GOP in a nutshell — lots of important, historic things going on but waste your time on the petty s— instead,” Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
To make matters worse, Pelosi was in mourning when the email came, Democrats stressed.
“By the way, Nancy Pelosi is in California for the funeral of her dear friend, [Dianne] Feinstein,” McGovern wrote on X, referring to the memorial service for the late senator scheduled for Thursday.
McGovern struck an indignant note: “Republicans have no class. The problem is not just that they are incompetent — it’s that they are mean and petty,” he wrote.
Some congressional observers agreed that the move felt retaliatory. Mark Strand, an adjunct professor at George Washington University and a former president of the Congressional Institute, said it was hard to argue with the timing.
“But the fact that Pelosi and Hoyer were given rooms was not a requirement, but a courtesy,” Strand added.
Pelosi, in a statement responding to the order to vacate, said the move was a “sharp departure from tradition,” noting her decision to allow her predecessor Dennis Hastert to retain a hideaway office during her first stint as speaker. While that may be true, it’s rare for a former speaker to linger very long in Congress after giving up, or losing, the gavel. Hastert, for one, didn’t finish out his final term in full.
“There certainly is no requirement to provide former leaders with space, and the idea that it is a tradition is weak, since it has not happened very often,” Strand said via email.
Hideaways are a more robust tradition on the Senate side, where all senators have had access to one in recent years. Members of leadership and more senior members get larger, more elegant spaces, while newer members are relegated to smaller, sometimes windowless units.
“The big advantage to having a hideaway is it’s right off the Senate floor. You don’t have to take the train to go back to your office. You can quickly go to your hideaway and make a phone call or have a quick meeting,” said Jane L. Campbell, president and CEO of the Capitol Hill Historical Society and a former chief of staff for Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
But the House has many more members, and offices in the Capitol itself are reserved for the elite few. Campbell said it’s common practice for majority and minority party leaders, as well as critical committee chairs, to have hideaway privileges. But the norms are less clear for past leaders, leaving disgruntled House Republicans plenty of pretext to clear out the space as they see fit.
Still, some on the Hill see a cycle of revenge that could last much longer than the current uproar over everyone who got ousted — McCarthy from his speaker’s chair, and Pelosi and Hoyer from their comfortable hideaways near the floor.
“After yesterday, I am sure feelings are raw,” Strand said. “I think there is a huge disappointment among Republicans that there were no institutionalists among the Democrats willing to defend the office of speaker.”