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Friday, January 19, 2007

Only in Washington

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Taking Power, Sharing Cereal

SOME of the most powerful Democrats in America are split over a most incendiary household issue: rodents.

“I once had to pick up a mouse by the tail that Durbin refused to pick up,” complained Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, referring to his roommate Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

This characterization is not fair to Mr. Durbin, interjected another tenant in the Capitol Hill row house, Representative Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. For starters, it overlooks Mr. Durbin’s gift for killing rats. “He will kill them with his bare hands,” Mr. Delahunt marveled.

“Oh, will you stop with the rats,” said the annoyed fourth roommate, Representative George Miller of California. He owns the house and is sensitive to any suggestion that he harbors pestilence. It’s dicey enough that he harbors politicians.

Think MTV’s “Real World” with a slovenly cast of Democratic power brokers. While Washington may have more than its share of crash pads for policy-debating workaholics, few, if any, have sheltered a quorum as powerful as this one. About a quarter-mile southeast of the Capitol, the inelegantly decorated two-bedroom house has become an unlikely center of influence in Washington’s changing power grid. It is home to the second- and third-ranking senators in the new Democratic majority (Mr. Durbin, the majority whip, and Mr. Schumer, the vice chairman of the Democratic caucus) and the chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee (Mr. Miller).

Mr. Delahunt, a six-term congressman, is the least prominent of the four but perhaps the funniest. More to the point, he is the only one willing to sleep in the living room with a close-up view of Mr. Schumer slumbering a few feet away in his boxers.

Mr. Miller began taking in weary lawmakers in 1982, but this is the first time in 12 years that four members of a Democratic majority have lived here simultaneously. The four men were once host to a fund-raiser for Senator Barbara Boxer of California at their divey dwelling, raising $80,000. Given the prevailing attire in the place on many nights, guests were given pairs of custom-made “Barbara Boxer shorts.”

As a general rule, the abode is hardly fit for entertaining, or even for a health inspector. It is used for convenience: sleeping, ditching stuff, and fast-food consumption — the kinds of functions prized by vagabond politicians whose families are back in their home states and who generally spend only their working weekdays here.

“Everybody in the world says they’re going to do a television series based on us,” said Mr. Durbin, who was collapsed on the couch on a recent Monday night. Still in a tie, he sipped ice water from a massive Chicago Cubs cup while waiting for the Chinese food to arrive.

posted by Steve @ 1:24:00 AM

1:24:00 AM

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