Pays Homage to 9/11 Victims
Fri Sep 6, 5:22 PM
By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Congress paid homage Friday to the
victims and heroes of last Sept. 11, convening
blocks from where the World Trade Center towers
once loomed and pledging the nation's
determination to vanquish terrorism.
Meeting outside Washington for only the second
time since moving there in 1800, more than 300
lawmakers held a solemn 50-minute session that was
a collage of speeches, poetry and music. At its
end, many linked hands as they sang "God
Bless America" along with a local high school
"The sorrow has been matched by
strength," said House Minority Leader Dick
Gephardt, D-Mo. "America is on a mission, not
retribution or revenge, not just to defeat
terrorism, but to show once again that good can
triumph over evil and freedom can overcome
"The duration of our present conflict and its
price may be in doubt, but there can be no doubt
as to its outcome," said Senate Minority
Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "From this city's
day of horror and all of the loss and sorrow has
Lawmakers followed the meeting with a visit to
ground zero, where a wreath of white carnations
and lilies was laid for the 2,800 who died when
terrorists rammed two hijacked planes into the
twin towers. As a flute played softly, legislators
filed past and placed small American flags into
baskets beside the flowers.
Another 189 people died on Sept. 11 when a third
plane slammed into the Pentagon ( news - web
sites), and 44 were killed when a jetliner crashed
in rural western Pennsylvania.
Friday's congressional session, which was strictly
ceremonial, was held in Federal Hall. The
160-year-old marble and sandstone building stands
where the first Congress met in 1789 and 1790,
when New York briefly reigned as the nation's
It was there that George Washington took the oath
to become the nation's first president. It is also
where legislators approved the Bill of Rights and
laws creating the federal courts and the State,
Treasury and War departments.
"The members of the first Congress shaped
events long into the future. The same is now asked
of us," said Vice President Dick Cheney (
news - web sites), who as Senate president
presided over Friday's meeting with House Speaker
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
"The wounds the terrorists inflicted were
deep," said Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle, D-S.D. "But America's resolve was
deeper. Let history record that the terrorists
Friday's speakers stood atop a slab of sandstone
from the balcony where Washington stood when he
took his oath of office.
Forty-eight senators and about 270 House members
were in attendance, with many forced to sit behind
the marble columns that ring the hall's rotunda.
That is more than half of Congress' membership,
and far more than generally attend working
sessions at the Capitol.
Officers toting assault weapons guarded the
members of Congress as they boarded two special
trains in Washington early in the morning. As they
journey north, lawmakers said they noticed
helicopters overhead and police cars at bridges.
Federal Hall, which is on Wall Street and in one
of the city's most bustling business districts,
was ringed by scores of armed officers.
Outside, people seemed of two minds.
"Congress is showing good faith in being here
and keeping the memories alive" of the
victims, said Chipper Bagwell, 52, a basketball
coach visiting from Greenwood, S.C.
But financial analyst David Mohabir, 31, of New
York, took note of the upcoming Nov. 5 elections
for control of Congress and said, "It might
be politically motivated in some ways."
During the meeting, the nation's poet laureate,
Billy Collins, read "The Names," a poem
he wrote for the occasion describing the pain
caused by the sheer number of victims.
"So many names, there is barely room on the
walls of the heart," he wrote.
Friday's session was among several events -
including a planned visit Tuesday by President
Bush ( news - web sites) - scheduled as the first
anniversary of the attacks nears.
At a lunch also attended by victims' survivors,
Daschle and Hastert presented New York Mayor
Michael Bloomberg with a flag that flew over the
Capitol on Sept. 11.
The private Annenberg Foundation provided a $1
million grant to help cover the costs of Friday's
congressional visit. It is unclear if that will be
enough, or who will pay if the price tag is
The only other time since 1800 that Congress has
met outside Washington was in 1987, when it held a
ceremonial meeting in Philadelphia for the 200th
anniversary of the Great Compromise, which created
the House and Senate.
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