- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

NEW YORK — Congress convened here yesterday, blocks from where the World Trade Center once towered, in a ceremonial session to honor the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks and to show support for the city as it rebuilds.
Three hundred one House and Senate members gathered in New York's Federal Hall, the site where the first Congress met in 1789, for a 50-minute session filled with speeches that combined somber remembrance with a renewed hope and a resolve to fight terrorism.
"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, Mississippi Republican. "From this city's day of horror, and all of the loss and sorrow, has come strength."
Meeting outside Washington for the second time since moving there in 1800, members wearing "I love New York" pins embraced one another and took personal photos before assembling."Let history record that the terrorists failed," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "What happened on September 11 did not diminish our strength. It renewed it."
The speakers stood atop a slab of sandstone from the balcony where Gen. George Washington took the oath to become the nation's first president.
"We still feel the loss of every single person who perished," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "But we can marvel at the bravery of those who rushed in to help."
House Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin opened the ceremony with a prayer in which he remembered that "the gaping hole left in this city tore into the fabric of this nation."
For a while, partisan differences were put aside. Members sang "God Bless America" with Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School Chamber Choir while holding hands across the aisle. Some members dabbed at tears, and there were multiple standing ovations.
"As a Tennessean in New York City, I feel so full of patriotism and unity," said Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican. Mr. Wamp was so inspired by the morning's events that he sent a mass e-mail to his staff telling them he is in awe of his country and his job.
"For all our differences, how remarkably one we are all today," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
Forty-eight senators and 253 House members attended, with many forced to sit behind the marble columns that ring the hall's rotunda. That is more than half Congress' membership.Among the lawmakers who did not attend the New York session was House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, who remained at the Capitol as a precaution.
"He was asked to stay behind by the speaker's office," DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said.Another prominent lawmaker who did not attend was Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. Mr. Byrd, who has been at odds with the White House over homeland-security funding, said his attendance in New York would be meaningless.
Historic significance was present throughout the meeting in the 160-year-old marble and sandstone building on the Wall Street site of New York's 18th-century City Hall. City Hall housed the first Congress, which approved the Bill of Rights and created the federal courts and the State, Treasury and War departments.
The Bible sitting on the desk in the front of the chamber was the one used to swear in President Washington.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who presided over the meeting with Mr. Hastert, said it was a "humbling experience" to be at the site of the first Congress. He said that after September 11, New York "showed itself to be a place of valor, generosity and grace."
Congress made the historic trip to the nation's first capital because of a resolution passed by both the House and Senate in July.
During the ceremonial session, a copy of the resolution was presented to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican, by the state's Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, along with New York Reps. Charles B. Rangel, Democrat, and Benjamin A. Gilman, Republican.
The day included lunch with New York leaders and a wreath-laying ceremony at ground zero in memory of the 2,801 killed by terrorists who rammed two hijacked planes into the 110-story twin towers last year on September 11.
During the luncheon, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and members heard from Mr. Bloomberg and others, including Susan Magazine, a New Yorker who lost her husband, Jay, in the attacks.
"Normal does not exist anymore for any one of the families who lost someone they loved that day," she told the crowd. "We are extremely thankful for all of the support."
Although partisan bickering vanished for a day, congressional members said it would be hard for that unity to find its way back to Washington. Control of the House and Senate are at stake in the November elections, and legislators face a full schedule of contentious issues in the fall, including appropriations bills and a potential war with Iraq.
"Does it help a little bit? Sure," Mr. Schumer said, referring to the day of unity. He said he was particularly moved by Mr. Lott's speech during the session, in which he noted new strength and resolve "from Manhattan to Mississippi."The estimated $1 million cost of the day was covered by a donation from the Annenberg Foundation, one of Mr. Hastert's aides said. It is not clear whether that will be enough or who will pay if the price tag is higher.
Congress held its first ceremonial meeting outside Washington in 1987, when members traveled to Philadelphia to commemorate the bicentennial of the Great Compromise, which created the first Congress.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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