Sunday, September 29, 2019
U. S. Capitol
Now that we’re retired, Tim and I spend much of our time following national as well as local political news. Not surprisingly, the daily outrages coming out of the White House keep us plenty busy. So naturally we were intrigued when the L.A. Times announced its latest “expedition,” touring Washington D.C. with one of its political reporters. President Bill Clinton was in the midst of impeachment the last time we visited D.C., 20 years ago. Might another impeachment happen if we returned? We signed up immediately.
Our group was small: nine well-read Southern Californians who, despite political affiliation, were all as concerned about the current White House as we are. Our guide was a Times political reporter and D.C. resident. Thanks to him and his contacts, we were able to: meet with staff from the Constitutional Accountability Center, which is representing Congress in an emolument lawsuit against the White House; watch the filming of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews; eat lunch with L.A. Times editor Jackie Calmes, who is writing a book about recent Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh; have drinks with MSNBC political commentators; meet retired Congressmember Henry Waxman, who now works for his son’s lobbying firm; and tour the recently-renovated offices of the Motion Picture Association.
The true highlight, however, was touring the Capitol building, where we unexpectedly stumbled into the middle of history. After briefly visiting the Supreme Court building, we walked over to the Capitol and chatted with Senator Kamala Harris’s communications aide. Two interns then took us on a tour of the Capitol, including rides on the underground trams that take legislators from their buildings to the main part of the Capitol—typical VIP touristy stuff.
Looming over all of this, however, was the whistleblower complaint claiming that the White House used promises of military aid to extort Ukraine into investigating presidential candidate Joe Biden. In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a special Democratic caucus meeting at 4PM to discuss whether or not to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. Their decision would then be publicly announced at 5PM.
It was almost 3PM when we just happened to be walking by Pelosi’s office in the Capitol. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity as somebody whispered, “There’s Schiff!” And sure enough, here came an entourage including Congressmember Adam Schiff, chair of the House intelligence committee, followed closely by Jerry Nadler, chair of the House judiciary committee. Obviously both were on their way to confer with the Speaker before the 4PM meeting.
“Oh my god,” I said to no one in particular. “It’s happening!”
Within seconds, we were surrounded by TV, radio, and newspaper reporters eagerly awaiting news. Anticipation filled the hall. We all knew the three Congressmembers were talking impeachment. I could barely breathe.
Our Times guide had arranged a 3:15PM meeting with L.A. Representative Jimmy Gómez, so we quickly made our way to another part of the building. It seemed impossible that the hundreds of happy-go-lucky tourists we passed didn’t know what was happening in Pelosi’s office. Making no predictions, Gómez was clearly distressed about the decision he would soon help make, saying that this was a sad but historic day. He then left for the 4PM meeting as his aide took us down a flight of stairs that led to the back of the building.
As we were leaving, we heard a loud cheer: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, wearing a bright orange hijab, was greeted by a small, but loud, group of pro-impeachment supporters. Exiting the building, we joined the supporters for a quick photo before walking to our van. Only then did I allow myself to cry, relieved that Congress was at last moving toward impeachment. At 5PM, we listened to Pelosi’s announcement as we drove back to the hotel. A formal inquiry was finally being launched.
View of the Capitol from the Supreme Court building
More photos of our trip follow below.
Viewing the Capitol from the Newseum
Beautiful subway stations in Washington, D.C.
Schlepping our luggage on the subway
Inspiring quotes on the walls
Colorful section of the Berlin Wall
The first tour with our group was Dupont Circle, our "home" neighborhood for the week. Lots of amazing homes, many of which are now embassies or museums.
Typical Gilded Age mansion
Former Walsh-McLean mansion (1903) now
serves as the Indonesian Embassy
Former Heurich House ((1894), now the
Lovely row houses
After dinner at the Tabard Inn (yum!), we piled into our van for an evening tour of the Washington monuments. Even if you've seen the monuments during the day, you must return at night—absolutely spectacular.
Every state represented
Ascending the stairs
"The memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."
Historic NBC Studio A
Lunch was at Ben's Chili Bowl, a popular hangout for politicos and local folk alike. In 2009, Barack Obama famously ate here a few days before his inauguration. This beloved landmark has been serving chili dogs, burgers, and more since 1958.
"Can't miss" signage
Tim in his glory
At 5:40PM, we hopped on our tour van again to NBC studios, where we watched a live broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Historic Studio A was also the site of the first televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, plus has hosted Meet the Press since 1958.
Getting ready to broadcast
Meeting Chris Matthews after the show
On the Hardball set
Library of Congress, topped by a sculpted torch
All marble and grand hallways, the Supreme Court is perhaps the most austere of the three buildings. Court was not in session, so we were treated to a 30-minute informational lecture inside the renowned courtroom. Unlike the rest of the starkly white public area, the courtroom is lushly draped in red velour.
Supreme Court building
Stairs leading to the courtroom
Red-draped courtroom and nine Justice seats. Observers sit on pews
and cane-backed chairs.
Next stop: the Library of Congress, which librarians affectionately call "LC." It is the world's largest library. Although there are no books in sight, LC is magnificent in its decor and architecture. A true temple of written knowledge.
Library of Congress archway in the Great Hall
Looking up from the Great Hall
Looking down onto the Great Hall
Ceremonial Librarian of Congress office
Thomas Jefferson's book collection, which provided
the foundation for the original LC collection
World-famous Reading Room. Remember the scene in
Reading Room's rotunda
Our last stop of the day was the Capitol, which we accessed via a public underground tunnel from LC. The building is festooned in statues. But perhaps the most famous is the original plaster model of the bronze Statue of Freedom that sits atop the Capitol dome. Recently restored, the plaster version is the centerpiece of Emancipation Hall, the building's main public space.
Plaster Statue of Freedom
Thanks to our Times tour guide, we visited Senator Kamala Harris's office in the Senate's Hart building. We even got to ride the underground trams connecting Hart to the rest of the Capitol buildings.
Directory to Senate offices: Kamala Harris's office, room 112
Lots of underground hallways
Open underground tram cars and "conductor"
Breath-taking Capitol rotunda, under which deceased officials
lie in state for public viewing
Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1After chatting all morning with lobbyists, Tim and I decided to spend our last afternoon in D.C. at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. Unfortunately the museum is currently under renovation, so the exhibits seemed rather haphazard—Neil Armstrong's space suit, for instance, was part of the Wright brothers display (huh?). Nevertheless, it's always exciting to be around rockets and historic airplanes.
Skylab B, which was never launched into space
Tail-end of Apollo command module
Neil Armstrong's moon-landing space suit
And historic airplanes, too—Lockheed 5B Vega, Amelia
View from the rear
Unadorned backside, which was never filmed
All lit up!