Tom LoBianco: In halls of power, there’s infestation—literally

When the president of the United States launched a racist attack on my hometown recently, some good friends asked me how I felt about it. My initial response was “meh,” for two reasons: It’s neither new nor surprising for this president and because I’ve seen a lot of vermin in my time covering politics.

I’m not referring to the politicians (C’mon folks, you really think I’m that cynical?). I mean, quite literally, a lot of vermin.

There are the rats that dart between the homeless encamped at Union Station in Washington, where I walk en route to the Capitol. Once inside the Capitol, there’s the more than occasional cockroach spied in the basement tunnels that run beneath the marbled halls of Congress.

Head down Pennsylvania Avenue, to the White House, and there are even more rats, as one video journalist noted on Facebook. The building and grounds are rife with them (again, literally.) Head north on Connecticut Avenue a mile or two and the occasional rat scurries across the paths at the National Zoo—they’re not part of any exhibit; they’re part of the nation’s capital.

According to a survey in 2017, Washington ranked as the third-most infested city in the country. Out of seven pests tracked, Washington tallied rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, bedbugs and termites. The only pesky annoyances missing were scorpions and fleas. Houston beat out New York for the honor of most-infested city, and Boston came in 10th. And Baltimore? It didn’t make the list.

But it’s not just Washington that’s plagued by pests. The Indiana Statehouse was home to plenty of slithery crawlers through the basement. (No, not the reporters!)

When I was there, there was a pretty regular siting of cockroaches darting along the tiles—sometimes we found them belly-up on the floor. And that’s to speak nothing of the general disrepair in the basement—the non-functioning water fountain with the plastic bag over it, next to the water cooler. The gaping hole in the floor near the tunnel entrance—one poor staffer rolling stacks of printouts from the offices to the Statehouse fell through the makeshift wood flooring placed over the hole. (The staffer was fine, but the school group walking past him sure seemed surprised.)

The woman who filmed the Fox News piece that apparently set the president on his racist rant is from Middle River, just outside Baltimore. For those unfamiliar with Baltimore, this is not far from where the city processes its “effluent”—aka, sewage. When we would drive down there as kids to see extended family, we always rolled up the windows, to no avail—a certain Eau de East Side permeated everything. Did we think any less of our family because of that? Of course not.

From Indianapolis to D.C. and all points in between, the unpleasantness is often just under our noses, right beneath the augustness of the nation’s very building blocks. It’s up to others to decide whether that counts as an “infestation.”•


LoBianco has been a political reporter for The Indianapolis Star, CNN and AP and is author of “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the WhiteHouse.” Send comments to

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