I read about what happened in the House on Friday, and was immediately excited that finally, FINALLY some elements of Congress were willing to stay and work harder than their schedule demanded. When I read on Sunday that Roy Blunt had issued a memo calling for it to happen again, I was excited: I wanted to see this. So, as a seventeen-year-old with no car and not much money, I made my way down to the most powerful room in the world.I got up at 3 AM Monday morning, and walked over to the bus stop at Cascades. I’d never actually walked around on a cloudless night, but the various stoplights made it look like a strange alternate universe. After looking like a ghost wandering through the 7-11 (which I didn’t know would be open, but thankfully I did get some breakfast.)For anyone who cares, I listened to Michael Jackson’s “Invincible” for the first time on the way there. Final verdict: too many tracks, cut down on the rap.
I got the first commuter bus out to West Falls Church at 5:12 AM. I took the subway to the Smithsonian stop (pleasant surprise: it turns out that it’s not as crowded as the 9:30 run), walked over to the Canon building (turns out the Capitol South station would be closer, but I felt like taking a walk), and waited around for the doors to open. (By the way, the Capitol really looks nice with the sunlight reflecting off of it. I never quite realized how BIG it is, too.)
After walking around, I went into the Canon building at 7:30. Turns out nobody’s staff was there yet (I needed a gallery pass), but I did follow the guy whose job it was to deliver newspapers and magazines from the office. I realized how easy it is to judge a congressperson by what they subscribe to: the liberals got the New York Times, the Examiner, and the like. Conservatives seem to get the Washington Times. They all like the Washington Post, and Pelosi got a bunch of girly magazines. Ron Paul didn’t get anything.
Realizing the staff wouldn’t be there until 9, I walked over to a Subway right near the House (next to a Tortilla place and something bluntly called “CONGRESSIONAL LIQUOR”.) An hour later, I headed back, got a gallery pass from Representative Wolf’s staff, and made my way to the Capitol. On the way out, I saw an interesting sign that read “THIS SIGN IS IN VIOLATION OF HOUSE RULES AND MAY BE REMOVED.” It was on someone’s door: I think it might’ve been Issa (California). I can’t quite remember.Apparently there was a new rule that congressmen couldn’t put signs outside their doors, the Republicans were mad, and the security staff was trying to take them down.I tried taking the basement, but it was a staff-only thing. (By the way, the tunnels connecting the administrative buildings feel like a warehouse, or… well, a basement. Pipes and insulation everywhere. Every once and a while there’s some hilarious attempt to spruce it up, like a painting or a statue.) So I walked up the gallery entrance, overhearing some discussions by the Capitol Police. They didn’t seem to have any idea what was going on, and they were not happy.
I got up to the entrance to the House chamber, relinquished my iPod and cell phone, and asked when this thing was supposed to start. They had no idea. I called Frank Wolf’s office, and his aide didn’t know. I called John Boehner’s office, who directed me to the House Republican Leadership, who said it was ten. I was actually the sole line of communication between the Republicans and the Capitol Police. So I went in, got a seat, and waited. The cameras were locked and off, the microphones were all disconnected, and most of the lights were out.
At ten, Tom Price and a bunch of others took the podium. Price was clearly the leader of the event, introducing congressmen, summing up speeches, and acting as the closest thing to a chair that the House had at the moment. It opened with a prayer and the Pledge, and then the talking started. Frank Wolf came on, and although I was proud my representative was there, he seemed a bit fixated on the foreign impact (talking about China, Cuba, and at one point saying something random about Darfur). I don’t like my local officials doing that with an issue that affects me, but oh well.
The biggest highlight was Donald Manzullo, who launched into an impressive, passionate, and hair-raising speech about John Quincy Adams and the importance of dissent. It cooled down from there. The whole time, unknowing tour groups were wandering through the chamber and sitting down.
Then I heard that they were trying to fill the House floor, so I and a few interns from Wisconsin went down to the entrance. An Ohio representative (I think) ushered us in, and we sat down. On the House floor. With people moving out, I decided to move forwards to try getting a better seat. In the process I accidentally took the seat of Rep. Roskam, who wasn’t there at the time. I realized as he pointed them out that the group to my right wasn’t some tourists, but his family. I immediately moved back.
I overheard an aide talking to Roskam that there was a press conference starting in Statuary Hall, so a bit later he and most of the others went outside.
Steve King came on, and was probably the other high point. I didn’t really expect this, since he was the guy who was left behind while the others went out to talk: I was expecting a still fillibuster. He immediately joked that he had “won the vote for who has the best face for radio.” While Manzullo was passionate, King was down-to-earth, funny, and made perfect sense. He talked about environmental impact (often citing the caribou population that exploded after drilling happened), monetary impact, and all the energy options the Democrats were refusing to use. At one point he got lost and started talking about monkeys, but immediately got back on track. The only fault with his speech was the picture of Nancy Pelosi he brought up, of her making that horrible smile and the words “I’M TRYING TO SAVE THE PLANET”. I don’t think you should do that on the House floor, while you’re trying to get her to go back into session. He could’ve made this point without the picture.
After Duncan Hunter spoke about the defense impact, I had to leave. I’d been sitting there for a good five hours. I exited through the break room (which is smaller than it looks in the pictures), made my way back up to the security desk (by the way, the stairs in the Capitol are very poorly designed with a weird incline halfway through each step), got my stuff back, and went home.
It was amazing: I never expected this would happen, or that I would have the opportunity to see it. I’m planning on going back tomorrow, it it’s still happening.