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KWAME HOLMAN: More than 250 members of the House and Senate boarded two special Amtrak trains at Washington’s Union Station early this morning, leaving their partisan politics on the platform. Their destination was New York City and historic Federal Hall, the site where Congress first convened in 1789, where the Bill of Rights was introduced, the site of George Washington’s first inauguration. Inside Federal Hall, the scene was friendly and relaxed as the members arrived. But at 11:00 A.M., House Speaker Dennis Hastert gaveled into session this ceremonial meeting of the Congress commemorating the September 11 attacks in New York.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Special ceremony meeting will be in order.
KWAME HOLMAN: The mood turned somber as Vice President Cheney, the President of the Senate, delivered the first of several short speeches remembering the dead, the injured, their families and friends, and the people of New York City.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: One year ago this great center of history, enterprise, and creativity suffered the gravest of cruelties, and showed itself to be a place of valor and generosity and grace. Here where so many innocent lives were suddenly taken, the world saw acts of kindness and heroism that will be remembered forever. When President Bush introduced Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki at the joint session last September, it was, said one New Yorker, as if the members of Congress had recognized these two men had come directly off the battlefield. Today, Congress gathers near that battlefield to honor the character shown and the courage shown in New York these last 360 days, and to remember every innocent life taken in the attacks of September 11.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Let history record that the terrorists failed. They sought to destroy America by attacking what they thought were our greatest strengths. But they did not understand the true strength of America does not steel, it is not concrete; it is our belief in the ideals enshrined in our Constitution and in our Bill of Rights. It is in our shared faith in liberty and our unwavering commitment to each other. So what happened on September 11 did not diminish our strength. It renewed it.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Speaker Hastert:
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: We still feel the loss of every single person who perished on that fateful day. But as we lament the loss of life, we can marvel at the bravery of those who rushed in to help. The genius of America can be found in the sacrifices of these brave martyrs of freedom. As we remember September 11, we must look forward to the day when we complete the task at hand, when we vanquish once and for all the terrorists who seek to take away our nation’s freedom.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: The duration of our present conflict and its eventual price may be in doubt, but there can be no doubt as to its outcome. From this city’s day of horror, out of all the loss and sorrow has come a strength. I’ve seen it all across America: A resolve, a determination which from Manhattan to Mississippi, now binds us together for the mighty work that lies ahead.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt:
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: None of us, no matter how long we live or what else marks our time, will ever forget September 11. And all of us, in the name of those who were lost, for a concept of liberty that must never be lost, and in the cause of civilization itself, are as determined as an earlier generation of Americans to gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: When the meeting ended, a color guard led the members of Congress down Wall Street to the Regent Hotel for a luncheon hosted by Mayor Bloomberg.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, New York: It is great for Congress to come here and to show their solidarity with New York, and it is incumbent on us to say thank you for everything they do, and that’s what I’m going to do in the next event.
KWAME HOLMAN: Following the lunch, the members made the short walk over to the site where the World Trade Center Towers once stood. One by one they passed by a wreath and each placed a flag.