Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today at the opening ceremony of the United States Capitol Visitor Center. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“As a Capitol police officer in the early 1960s, one of my responsibilities was to stand guard right above where we are now. During those times, I would have the opportunity to watch the ‘President’s Own Marine Corps Band’ and other military bands come here every summer night to play outside. I was fascinated by their performances, and by the site of real legends of the Congress, like Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, who holds the record for longest service in the United States Congress.
“In 1982, long after my time with the Capitol police, I returned to Washington to serve in Congress. But when I came back to the Capitol, it had gotten worse, not better. The east front had become a blacktop-covered parking lot.
“Fortuitously, in 1986 when I was elected to the United States Senate, I had the opportunity to serve on the legislative branch of the Appropriations Committee. That’s when we began to do something to improve the Capitol grounds. We started by removing the blacktop. We launched a Visitors’ Center committee, which moved along – slowly – with a plan for a new center to be funded with both private and public money.
“Then, 10 years ago, two Capitol police officers, Special Agent John Gibson and Officer Jacob Chestnut, were tragically killed by a madman seeking access to the Capitol building. Not long after came September 11th, with all the security risk and changes it required. At this point, work on the Visitors’ Center assumed an urgent pace.
“The result is now before us: an engineering feat that will stand the test of time, making this building and those who work within it safer, while enriching the visitor’s experience for the 3 million who will come here every year – with exhibits, a terrific film playing in two theaters, and all the modern facilities to make the United States Capitol the destination it deserves to be.
“I am one of the 648 men and women who have had the honor of serving in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. The words of another, Rufus Choate of Massachusetts, adorn the entrance to the Exhibition hall directly behind us. ‘We have built no temple but the Capitol,’ he said. ‘We consult no common oracle but the Constitution.’
“Today the ‘people’s temple’ shines brighter than ever before, particularly with the beautiful Statue of Freedom casting her shadow high above us – the actual plaster model for the statue that stands atop the Capitol Dome, placed there 145 years ago on this day, saved, restored and relocated largely by the efforts of my dear friend Senator Dan Akaka from Hawaii.
“To the 9,000 construction workers and countless others who contributed to this building, you have earned a special reward: to know that your children and your children’s children will one day walk the floors on which we now stand, gaze upon the statues and exhibits, including that of Nevada’s Sarah Winnemucca, and feel a special connection to the place that you built, stone by stone.
“In those years long from now, this Capitol Visitors’ Center will become home to statues of Americans perhaps not yet born, who, like the men and women enshrined in bronze and marble all around us, will reshape our still-young country in ways perhaps not yet imagined.”