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NYT: Taking Power, Sharing Cereal

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  • Ram Lau
    January 18, 2007 At Home With George Miller, Richard J. Durbin, Charles E. Schumer and Bill Delahunt Taking Power, Sharing Cereal By MARK LEIBOVICH Washington
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      January 18, 2007
      At Home With George Miller, Richard J. Durbin, Charles E. Schumer and
      Bill Delahunt
      Taking Power, Sharing Cereal
      By MARK LEIBOVICH

      Washington

      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.

      "But then they realize that the story of four middle-aged men, with no
      sex and violence, is not going to last two weeks," he said. The
      prevailing topics of their discussions are grandchildren and
      Metamucil, he added.

      "Hey, speak for yourself, Durbin," Mr. Delahunt said, protesting the
      claim of no sex and violence.

      "There is a lot of violence in here," Mr. Schumer said.

      In fact, the roommates have never resorted to violence, at least with
      one another. (Crickets are another story.) Their weapons are verbal,
      and often aimed at Mr. Schumer, who admits to a serious dereliction of
      roommate duties, like grocery shopping. He is also prone to a blatant
      disregard for conserving a most precious household resource, cereal.

      "I love cereal," Mr. Schumer said, digging into his second bowl of
      granola, going a long way toward depleting a box that Mr. Miller had
      just purchased.

      The night of the national championship football game between the
      University of Florida and Ohio State, Jan. 8, was a rare instance of
      the four roommates being home and awake at the same time. It had not
      happened since the election in November, and the neighborhood has
      changed considerably since then. Several Republicans on the block lost
      their race or left Congress (the latter category includes the
      disgraced Representative Mark Foley, who lived down the street).

      "This street was just devastated by the election," Mr. Miller said.
      "Who says Republicans are good for property values?"

      He added that no Republican had ever set foot in the place, at least
      to their knowledge.

      "We just have to vote with them, not live with them," he said.

      Mr. Miller bought the house in 1977 and started taking in renters a
      few years later. Early tenants included former Representative Marty
      Russo of Illinois and former Representative Leon E. Panetta of
      California, who was forced to move out when President Clinton
      appointed him head of the Office of Management and Budget. (Ethics
      laws prohibited a White House official from paying rent to a member of
      Congress.)

      Mr. Schumer joined them in 1982, and Mr. Durbin moved in a decade
      later on condition that he get one of the two bedrooms upstairs. Mr.
      Miller sleeps in the other, bigger bedroom, asserting his ownership
      privileges, and Mr. Delahunt began occupying the second living room
      bed four years ago, after a previous tenant, former Representative Sam
      Gejdenson, was evicted by voters in Connecticut.

      Mr. Miller charges rent of $750 a month, which Mr. Durbin pays by
      direct deposit and Mr. Schumer's wife pays by sending Mr. Miller six
      checks twice a year. Mr. Schumer says his wardrobe at the apartment
      consists of boxers and suits, nothing in between.

      Women rarely set foot in the place, excluding the Haitian cleaning
      lady who comes every week and who everyone promises is a legal
      immigrant. The common bathroom upstairs is stocked with supersize
      bottles of Listerine, CVS cocoa butter, Suave shampoo (with dandruff
      control) and a hair dryer.

      Little thought is given to entertainment besides the big-screen
      television that Mr. Durbin recently purchased against the wishes of
      Mr. Schumer and Mr. Delahunt, who liked the old one. The refrigerator
      is mostly empty save for apples, grapes and about two dozen bottles of
      beer.

      "The icemaker is back on," boasted Mr. Miller, pointing to the inside
      of what might be the most unseemly freezer in Washington this side of
      Representative William Jefferson's. (F.B.I. agents found $90,000 in
      the freezer of Mr. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, who is being
      investigated on bribery charges.)

      Once, Mr. Miller's son shot a deer and presented the house with an
      abundant supply of venison. It remained in the freezer for 12 years,
      at which point it was deemed to have reached its term limit and was
      discarded.

      "Whatever happened to that venison?" Mr. Schumer wondered.

      "I think it just got up and walked away," Mr. Delahunt said.

      The roommates then repaired to couches to watch Florida-Ohio State and
      to stuff their faces with Sichuan beef and kung pao chicken. Mr.
      Durbin began talking about meetings he had last month with the
      presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador on a Congressional delegation to
      Latin America. Then he and Mr. Schumer started arguing about Mr.
      Schumer's refusal to make his bed.
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