A pair of white jockey underwear sits on a bookshelf in the living room. Rat traps adorn nooks and crannies of the dilapidated kitchen. In the refrigerator -- a jar of olives maybe five or six years old. In the freezer, venison at least twice, if not three times, as old. Two sagging unmade beds with dingy sheets stand forlornly in opposite corners of the living room.
Believe it or not, this is where four of the most powerful men in the U.S. Congress live when they're in Washington. The number two and three leaders of the U.S. Senate -- Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Democratic caucus Vice Chairman Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. -- share this house with Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., the chairman of a key House subcommittee on human rights, and their landlord, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Democratic Policy Committee.
All four have houses in their home districts, but crash in this two-bedroom townhouse near the Capitol whenever they overnight in the nation's Capitol, which is quite often. One March night, the four allowed, for the first time, TV cameras into their humble living quarters -- Delahunt calls it a "hovel" -- to discuss their interesting arrangement over some pizza and beer.
"I'm sure [voters] think we live in big mansions down here with a lot of servants," Schumer says of their house, which in terms of décor and cleanliness compares unfavorably with the fraternity this reporter belonged to in college.
"There's just something about living in filth and squalor," adds Durbin. "It's been called 'Animal House.'"
"Washington is actually a lonely place," Schumer says. "Millions of acquaintances, many people want something. But no friends. We're friends."
"This is probably the closest to a bi-cameral caucus between what's going on in the Senate and the House," says Durbin. "George is very close to the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck and I are leadership in the Senate."
So they have conversations at night that make a difference, Durbin says.
"Bill's single, so he's out having a good time," Schumer laughs.
The four talk politics, families, and have the usual roommate squabbles about chipping in for groceries. A COSTCO receipt from 1996 hangs by magnet on the refrigerator; Durbin says he has yet to be repaid for it. Beneath some vicious teasing -- much of it at the expense of Schumer, who seems perhaps the messiest --the four seem to genuinely like one another.
Durbin, chipper in a red sweater, shared the tale of the night he confronted a large rat, killing the beast with a golf club.
"I'm not a good golfer," Durbin quips. "I had to three putt."
Durbin and Schumer are the only members of the Senate who have endorsed a presidential candidate -- Durbin for his fellow Illinoisan, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Schumer for his fellow New Yorker, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
"You are looking at the only two guys in the Senate who have no illusions of running for president," Schumer says.
Durbin says Obama wouldn't even entertain the notion of moving in with them.
"He said, 'The idea of seeing Durbin and Schumer in their boxers is too much for me,'" Durbin says.
"How would you like to wake up every morning at 6 a.m. and see [Schumer] in the buff?" Delahunt asks.
"We would prefer that he wear a burka," says Miller.