Rep. Ron DeSantis glances at the tv as he returns to his office after changing into more comfortable clothes for the evening. He will sleep on the couch later. [Andre Chung | For the Tampa Bay Times]
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the leading Republican candidate for Florida governor, is in his office sitting on a black, faux leather couch in T-shirt and gym shorts, a fuzzy grey blanket and pillow at his side. He is pouring over papers, and a DO NOT DISTURB door knob sign dangles outside his door to keep the janitorial crew from barging in as he snoozes.
He looked more like a beleaguered spouse booted from his house than the constitutionally elected voice of 700,000 Floridians in Daytona Beach and northeast Florida.
Depressing as it sounds, this is how DeSantis and dozens of other members of Congress choose to live in Washington. They sleep on couches and air mattresses, shower in the mildly seedy U.S. House gym. No one has a firm estimate of how many members are in the so-called “couch caucus,” but estimates range from 40 to more than 100.
Beats paying $2,000 a month in rent for a part-time second home, they say, saves commuting time, and lets them focus on the job taxpayers elected them to do.
“If I had to live in a DC suburb, which is probably what I’d have to do, I would lose two hours a day commuting,” DeSantis, 39, explained, shortly after a phone call to strategize with a fellow founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, North Carolina’s Mark Meadows, about a long-shot congressional term limits bill.
DeSantis allowed a Tampa Bay Times reporter to shadow him for a day in the U.S. Capitol — not while he snoozed, mind you — surely aware that the image of a congressman not getting too comfortable in the beltway swamp plays well with voters at home. (His GOP primary opponent, Adam Putnam, bought a two bedroom townhome near the Capitol for $325,000 after he became a House member in 2001 and sold it 10 years later for $600,000 as he left Congress.)
Men and women and Republicans and Democrats alike choose to live out of their House offices, but the practice is mainly associated with staunch conservative males like DeSantis.
“Unhealthy, unsanitary — and some people would say it’s almost nasty,” Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, told Politico earlier this year after two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus sought an investigation into the practice by the House Ethics Committee.
Think of the constituents, House employees, lobbyists who visit a House member in his or her office chat, never suspecting the couch they’re sitting on hours held a snoring, drooling politician hours earlier.
“People have been doing this for decades. My constituents appreciate that I’m doing it like this, because I’m getting more done,” he said.
“I’m so much more productive here. When I’m done with everything at night, I’ll have the stuff for the next day sitting here. I can read whatever I need to read — amendments, committee stuff — crash, go to the gym right here. I probably gain at least two hours a day in productivity.”
In more comfortable clothes for the evening, Rep. Ron DeSantis goes over some paperwork. He will sleep on the couch later. [Andre Chung for the Tampa Bay Times]
On an elevator ride in the Rayburn House Office building, DeSantis ran into a Democrat from California — a locker room friend — and promptly whipped out his phone to show off pictures of his 8-week-old son and his trip to Jerusalem for the embassy opening.
Democratic former U.S. Rep. Eric Massa in 2010 recounted how then-White House Chief of Staff and former Rep. Rahm Emanuel once confronted him the House gym: “I am showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me.”
Standing in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Ron DeSantis prepares for his appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight on Fox News. [Andre Chung for the Tampa Bay Times]
DeSantis’ day when the Times tagged along: