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Who gets the Speaker's office? The fight for Capitol Hill's sweetest real estate


Nancy Pelosi and president Obama enjoying the speaker's cushy digs, 2009. (Gerald Martineau/TWP)


If all those polls and pundits are right, House Minority Leader John Boehner is not only measuring the drapes in the speaker's office, but picking out new furniture, paint and carpet.

Not officially, of course. "Right now, our entire team is 100.percent focused on getting people out to vote tomorrow," Boehner press secretary Michael Steel told us Monday. "What comes after that, we'll figure out after."

But all signs point to Boehner inheriting the Hill's sweetest piece of real estate, a sweeping second-floor office suite on the west side of the Capitol with a private balcony, fireplace and a spectacular view of the Mall. Like her predecessors, Nancy Pelosi put her own stamp on the rooms (fresh flowers, bowls of chocolate) when she moved in four years ago. "Before it was a very dark place," she told CBS last month. "Looked like a men's club. I guess there was a reason for that."


Newt Gingrich and John R. Kasich taking in the view, 1995. (Eric Pianin/TWP)

Pelosi did not, as some claimed, paint the red walls in the outer hallway into a Democratic-friendly blue. But she was the first speaker to post a quirky tour of the office -- "Capitol Cat Cam" -- on YouTube in 2009.

Boehner probably has his own ideas for the space, but can't move in right away. First, the GOP has to win the House, then on or about Nov. 17 (Boehner's 61st birthday), his party has to vote him "speaker-elect." The full vote doesn't happen until January.

It's not the only office up for grabs. If all goes according to GOP strategists, the unofficial musical chairs start Wednesday. Boehner would move to the office currently occupied by Pelosi, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor would get Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office, and a Democrat would move into Boehner's second-floor office.

The architect of the Capitol and others move at least 100 offices every two years (and probably more this time): Freshman get offices through a lottery system, members trading up, and the new leadership shifts into the prime digs. "It's like dominos," said AOC communication officer Eva Malecki. Thanksgiving to Christmas is "controlled chaos. But we've been doing it for years." Most members are assigned standard-issue furniture but get to select drapes, artwork and paint color; movers, painters and electricians begin the process getting everything ready for the new term.

Where would Pelosi land? Depends on whether the Dems elect her as House minority leader. In the '40s and '50s, the House leadership went back and forth so often that Sam Rayburn (speaker three times) and Joseph Martin (who held the office twice) stopped moving offices and just stayed put where they were.

If she doesn't end up leading her party, Pelosi will have her office in the Cannon Building and probably a small office suite somewhere in the Capitol building itself. That's what happened to Dennis Hastert in 2007 -- he was given a first-floor office until he resigned his seat a few months later.

Then again, Pelosi might not be going anywhere.
"It ain't over 'til it's over," wrote Fox News congressional correspondent Chad Pergram. On Wednesday, "Republicans will know if they can really put their stockpiles of paint color chips and fabric remnants to use."


By The Reliable Source  | November 2, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
 
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