Senators Use Secret Hideaways in Capitol for Privacy, Quiet

When Sen. Patrick Leahy wants privacy, he heads down one of the Capitol's marbled hallways and through a locked door next to a hulking, white marble statue. Then, through another locked door, into a hideaway secure from the bustle outside.

Many of the 100 senators have these coveted, hard-to-find nooks scattered around the Capitol, a cherished perk on top of their official suites in the nearby Senate buildings where the staff works and constituents drop in.

Hideaways have been popular places for legislative dealmaking — even a little monkey business, too.

One senator drew on his roots as a pilot and designed his hideaway space as a cockpit, where he donned a telephone headset to communicate with ground control — his staff across the street.


Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, recently met in his hideaway with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to discuss the firings of U.S. attorneys and FBI abuses of the Patriot Act.

Painted in soft yellow with white trim, the narrow, high-ceilinged room on the first floor has one of the Capitol's most desired views — of the National Mall and Washington Monument. There's a desk and computer, a couch, a working fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases and a bathroom — considered a perk for a hideaway.

Photos of "the most beautiful grandchildren you've ever seen" — Leahy has four — and of the Democrat's 300-acre property in Vermont adorn the walls, along with two folded U.S. flags mounted in their cases.

Down a red hallway just off the Rotunda on the second floor is the hideaway that belongs to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. It serves as an overflow room, and is used for staff and constituent meetings that are too large for the stately suite McConnell inherited when he became Republican leader.

"It's not very pretty but it's useful," spokesman Don Stewart said.

The windowless room has a conference table and six chairs, a couch, two armchairs and a non-working fireplace with a large mirror above it. There's a TV, telephones, a mini fridge and a bathroom. Photos of a young McConnell decorate the walls.

Sam Brownback's hideaway is in the basement. The Kansas Republican and presidential aspirant met there with activists in 2005 as Congress debated the case of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed. Other senators dwelling in the basement are Republicans Jon Kyl of Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe has a fish-shaped "Jesus" magnet on the door.

Some House leaders and committee chairmen have hideaways, too.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the Democratic leadership, has a beige-colored, first-floor hideaway with a wood-burning fireplace, a Mall view and photos of his wife and three children.


Hideaway "spaces were highly coveted by the powerful, and particularly by the playful," Bobby Baker, an aide to Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote in his book, "Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator." Johnson served in the Senate from 1949 until he was sworn in as vice president in 1961.

Johnson — and others — used their hideaways for more than legislative affairs, said another former LBJ aide.

"He frequently turned his hideaway into a love nest," Robert Parker said in his memoir, "Capitol Hill in Black and White." "He would invite a woman there at the end of the day to 'take dictation."'

Parker, who eventually became the Senate Dining Room's head waiter, had keys to all the hideaways in use at the time. He would check the "escape rooms" before lunch to make sure they were stocked with wine and cocktail glasses, ice, fresh flowers and whatever else he thought senators wanted or needed.

Parker said senators' wives often asked him where their husband's hideaways were.

He said he would smile politely and feign ignorance. But "we both knew her husband was using his hideaway for more than lunch. So were a lot of other senators."


By definition, hideaways are hard to find. Many are down closed-off hallways or behind unmarked, nondescript doors marked only with an "S" or an "H," for Senate or House, and a number.

"There's no sign on the door saying, 'This is senator so-and-so's hideaway,"' said Senate historian Betty Koed.

So sensitive are senators about their hideaways that nearly 20 either declined requests to visit them or their offices did not respond.

Capitol Police officers help keep reporters and tourists away, too.

"You know that a specific room is a senator's hideaway, because you see him going in there, but you don't tell anybody that, particularly the press," Leonard Ballard, a former Capitol Police inspector, said in a 1983 oral history interview.

He wouldn't point a senator to another's hideaway, either.

"The senator will say, 'Well, if he'll show somebody that one, he'll show mine,"' Ballard said. "So you just don't. That's his little kingdom."


Many hideaways are cramped and windowless — with room enough for the basic desk and chair. Some are downright palatial by comparison, with working fireplaces and grand views of the Mall and its monuments.

With a hideaway, senators can hold meetings or talk on the phone in absolute privacy. They can save the time they'd spend going between the Capitol and their Senate offices for votes. They can even catch a nap on a late night.

"The more senior the senator, the finer the room," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., explained in her novel "Born to Run," in which the main character is like her, a Democratic senator from California.

Boxer, a third-term senator, has a hideaway, but her office declined to show it to The Associated Press.

Johnson had a Murphy bed and a kitchen with a bar, a refrigerator and a stove hidden behind panels in his suite of hideaways, according to Parker. Johnson ultimately had snatched so many hideaways for himself on two floors that his spread became known as "Johnson's Ranch East."


Louisiana Sen. Allan Ellender served samples of his Creole cooking at luncheons in his third-floor hideaway. Five U.S. presidents partook, including LBJ, who one day followed his nose and dropped in, uninvited, for some of the Democrat's famous shrimp gumbo.

Vice President Harry S. Truman had just arrived at House Speaker Sam Rayburn's hideaway on April 12, 1945, for a late-afternoon swig of bourbon when he got a message to call the White House. Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead.

Rayburn's hideaway was known as the "Board of Education" because he and his colleagues would meet there over drinks at the end of the day to swap stories and plot strategy.

New Hampshire's Gordon Humphrey, the former pilot, would retreat to his hideaway and pretend he was back in the cockpit. Staff called it the "3C" center — military speak for command, control and communications.

Daniel Webster's ghost is said to have haunted his former hideaway, once occupied by Leahy. Webster had stored his wine collection in the vaulted, third-floor room. Leahy subsequently renamed the office after the Massachusetts senator and invited his ghost to the dedication.