The Girls in the House

How three D.C. power women help each other stay sane.

By Annie Groer
Roommates Carolyn Maloney, Melissa Bean and Debbie Wasserman Schultz share a laugh.
Photograph: Photo by Liz Lynch/ lizlynch.com

Maloney, of course, had no idea her two colleagues were in the market. She just announced her available rooms at an orientation session for freshman spouses and Wasserman Schultz’s husband Steve was in the audience. He promptly volunteered his wife and Bean, and soon afterward the two newly elected congresswomen moved into what Maloney now calls her sorority house.

The chatelaine has the top-floor master suite, dominated by a massive Victorian bedstead and mirror; a nearby space doubles as her office/guest room. Bean and Wasserman Schultz share the second floor, which includes two bedrooms with en suite baths and a laundry room. All three use the open main level: a living and dining area furnished with French gilt mirrors, a Victorian sofa, Oriental rugs and Asian art (all Maloney family antiques); a cozy TV room leading to a back porch; and a gourmet kitchen with a Viking range (rarely used) and a refrigerator (nearly empty).

“We can’t keep milk fresh,” Bean says. “We have frozen food for the kids when they visit—pizza, spaghetti—and we’ve got water, soda and microwave popcorn.” She then ticks off guest sleeping spaces as though touting a beach rental: “Debbie has a pullout love seat for when her kids visit. I have a queen-size bed; one of my daughters can crash with me, and the other sleeps on the AeroBed. When it’s inflated I can’t open my dresser drawers. There’s a pullout couch in the living room. Carolyn has an office with a daybed, so that’s where her daughter sleeps. We’ve had our husbands over, too, and then mom and dad sleep in the bed. There are times when it’s really crowded.”

Maloney won’t say what she charges (though she calls the setup “a great deal” for her tenants). But the real payoff—for all three of them—has been emotional rather than financial. The arrangement has turned out to be rewarding in ways none of the players could have imagined five years ago when they began their communal living adventure.

Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, only 73 are women—and “a very small minority of us are moms with [young] kids,” Wasserman Schultz says. So, to her, their home “really is like a sisterhood. We three are the only congresswomen who live together. We rely on each other.” That means everything from averting a mini clothing crisis—“I have raided Carolyn’s drawer for pantyhose when I’ve had runs,” confesses Bean—to sharing confidences about husbands and children, from brainstorming on legislation and fund-raising to providing emergency babysitting.

Wasserman Schultz is the most partisan politician of the three; Bean, the most conservative and business-focused. Maloney, who cut her teeth on New York’s City Council, was an invaluable resource for the newcomers. “So much of the time, we come home and get her advice—‘Who should I talk to about getting this bill moving if I’m trying to get the opposition from an industry to back off?’—Carolyn’s experience doing these things for 18 years has been tremendous for Melissa and me. She’s such an incredible legislator.” After a second’s pause: “I think we are all good legislators.” Maloney says simply, “We mentor each other.”

A typical day at what the National Journal has dubbed the home of the Member Moms begins with the stirring of early riser Maloney. Trim, fit, given to designer suits, she hits the House gym by 6:30 for an hour-long tae kwon do workout (she’s a black belt), fortified by the signature green drink she whips up, using spinach, celery, an apple, kale and dark lettuce.

“I am sure it is very healthful,” deadpans the rangy Bean. “I just can’t get past the look of it.”

Maloney tries to be in bed by 10, which is often when the other two begin unwinding. “Nearly every night, Melissa and I pop popcorn and pour on massive amounts of butter,” Wasserman Schultz says. “We sit on one of our beds and talk about our husbands, our kids, our staff, the complaints and the triumphs of the day.”

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