Friday, November 1, 2013

Washington, D.C. - Day 2: Congress


I'm a little bit of a political junkie, so spending an entire day hanging out in the Capitol Building is better than going to a rock concert for me. (I can see some of you rolling your eyes at me and reminding me that my geekiness is showing. Too bad!)

We had to get up and head into the city early because at 9:30 A.M. we had an appointment to have "coffee" with our senators from Texas: John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Senator Cornyn is the second ranking Republican in the Senate, behind Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senator Cruz is a junior senator and identifies as a member of the conservative "Tea Party".

We did indeed meet our senators, and they seemed genuinely interested in meeting us!  (Of course, any time they can impress constituents, it pleases them. They need to secure those votes!)  We spoke with them for a few minutes, then had family pictures taken with them.  It all lasted less than half an hour, but it was a great way to start our day.

Next, we received a private tour of the Capitol Building by one of the senator's interns.  We were able to see the old parts of the building where the House of Representatives, Senate, and even the Supreme Court used to meet.  On this level of the building, one can stand on the geographic center of D.C. 

We also had a guided tour of the Capitol Rotunda and received a lot of information about all the symbolism and tradition of the building. We even saw the statue of Stephen F. Austin, which happens to be the only statue in the Capitol Building in which a gun is included.

And as we were walking out of the Rotunda, I nearly bumped into the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV).  I was literally within an arm's length of the man.  (Of course, he didn't pay any attention to me since his entourage had his complete attention, but I'm sure he must have heard my audible gasp when I realized who it was!) I tried to catch a picture of him, but he was turning a corner by the time I got ahold of my star-struck senses and got my camera out.

We were also the recipients of "season tickets" to both the House of Representatives and the Senate!  We can sit in the gallery of the House or Senate any time we choose for the remainder of this session (until March 2014).

So we first sat in the House of Representatives for a little while.  We saw the Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), open the session, then we heard a multitude of representatives speak for one minute each on any topic of their choosing.  We heard everything from accolades to a junior ROTC student, to concern for veteran's rights, to praise for Obamacare, to fiery criticism of Obamacare.  It was quite interesting!

Next we had lunch in the Capitol Visitor Center, then headed to the other side of the Rotunda to watch the Senate in action.

This time we really lucked out!  It just so happened that all the senators were summoned for a roll call vote.  (Apparently they were deciding whether or not to confirm appointment for the position of Labor Relations.)  Because it was a roll call vote, we got to see ALL the "rock stars" of the Senate - in the flesh!  Just to name a few that we could identify from appearance, besides our two senators from Texas whom we had just met:

Harry Reid (D-NV - Majority Leader)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
John McCain (R-AZ)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY - Minority Leader)
John Thune (R-SD)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Diane Feinstein (D-CA)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

It was so neat to see them all in one place, all at the same time!  I was in political junkie heaven!

Once the boys had enough of the Senate gallery, we left the inside of the Capitol Building and walked outside, up some steps, when what do you think we saw?

Well, I'm not exactly sure what we saw! The entire area was taped off with "Do Not Cross" tape, police officers were everywhere, and there was a limousine motorcade in front of us. A fellow spectator told us that President Obama was in the Capitol Building, giving part of the eulogy for recently departed former Speaker of the House Tom Foley.

I found this USA Today article about what was going on under our noses without us realizing it:

(This article also explains why all the flags in the city were at half-staff, which puzzled us.)

We hovered around the area hoping to catch a glimpse of some important people as they walked to their cars, but time kept ticking and the kids were getting incredibly whiney and bored. So we packed it up and went home. We never did see anything other than police officers and limousines.

But what a memorable day we had!

(Note: Once again, we missed some great photo opportunities. Pictures were not allowed in the House of Representatives nor Senate galleries.)