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A Living History Tour of The Capitol with Congressman Eric Swalwell

January 4, 2013
Congressman Eric Swalwell

Congressman Eric Swalwell

Congressman Eric Swalwell’s final moments with guests from California’s 15th District took place, appropriately, on the floor of the House of Representatives, home to the creation of legislation and the State of the Union address. But more on that in a moment.

Our day began early with a visit to the White House, under clear skies and a promised break from record-setting arctic air. The perfect weather that welcomed the newly sworn-in 113th Congress this week will hopefully result in good things for 2013.

I’ve been asked a few times now, how did we get a White House tour? It started over a month ago and White House tours need to be requested via your Congressman / Congresswoman. In our case that meant working through Rep. Jerry McNerney’s office (because until yesterday he was our local representative in Congress, not Eric Swalwell). Requests are made a month in advance and you don’t find out if your tour request was accepted, or the exact date/time of the tour, until 10-14 days before your visit. All tour requests are cleared by the Secret Service, so if you have something to hide skip the White House tour.

While you only visit a small portion of the White House (the West Wing and residence are off-limits), stepping past the security gates (and security dogs sniffing suspiciously) is a moving experience. Just about every artifact, painting, table or trinket carries historic significance. And while the inhabitants of the White House are ordinary people elected to serve, you get a small sense of how different life must be in this house. We didn’t see any Obama’s (including Bo) on this visit.

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery

Exiting the White House we continued on to Arlington Cemetery where rolling hills and an endless sea of wreath-adorned white markers tell the story of the fallen. An eternal flame looks over President John F. Kennedy and his family, while countless tombs and headstones mark names that have earned places in our history books. The silence of those visiting Arlington is equalled by the serenity of the surroundings, distant enough from highways and thoroughfares that only the clicking heel of a soldier guarding The Tomb of the Unknowns interrupts the peace.

Reverend Patrick Conroy with Congressman Swalwell

Reverend Conroy with Congressman Swalwell

Later in the day, we caught up with Congressman Eric Swalwell during a Capitol Tour led by his newly hired staff (Swalwell led tours years ago as an unpaid intern for then Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher). During the tour Swalwell introduced our group to the Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, who spoke of the apolitical role served by the House Chaplain, noting that there are few conversations in Washington devoid of a political context.

The highlight of the tour was unexpected; with the benefit of a Congressman leading our tour we were able to enter the House of Representatives and sit in the same seats as our local representatives (seats that are, surprisingly, unassigned – it’s first come / first served in the House). Before you enter the House all electronic gadgets have to be surrendered – nothing can be recorded electronically by visitors so we were forced to observe and remember the old-fashioned way.

Congressman Swalwell led a demonstration of voting. Each Member of Congress receives a voting card used to electronically register an Aye / Nay / Present vote. Swalwell has cast a few votes so far – both mundane and important (the Hurricane Sandy vote took place today).

The Floor of the House is smaller than it appears during the State of the Union address – it’s surprising that all of Congress, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court Justices and other dignitaries can fit in the chamber. And while the scale of the House may not match what we see projected on our flatscreens at home, the experience of walking on that floor where history is written, both ugly and elegant, impactful and trivial, timeless and forgotten, is inspiring.

This is the final article in a series documenting Dublin High School Class of 1999 and City of Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell’s joining the 113th Congress. The other three articles were:

Tour of the Capitol for Congressman Eric Swalwell Supporters

Tour of the Capitol for Congressman Eric Swalwell Supporters

Congressman Eric Swalwell with Capitol Tour for Supporters

Congressman Eric Swalwell with Capitol Tour for Supporters

Dome of the Capitol Building

Dome of the Capitol Building

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