WASHINGTON — Tourists are pretty much locked out of Washington’s monuments and museums, but those who want to hear lawmakers argue some more about the government shutdown are welcome to do it.
The partial shutdown has closed many attractions across the nation’s capital and furloughed hundreds of thousands workers. But Senate and House rules dictate that their gallery seats remain open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session.
“Wonderful,” said tourist Mary Avanti of Woodbridge, Calif., who wished that she wasn’t forbidden from standing up in the chambers’ galleries and speaking her mind.
“I’d like to get up and say ‘I AM the people … and I’m really disappointed,’” Avanti said as she sat near the foot of the Capitol steps with tourist map in hand. “Back in the day, government worked and was not split like this — good against bad, white against black, the rich against the poor, the North against the South. I wish it would stop and we could all just come together.”
Avanti and her granddaughter Galina Avanti, 15, had wanted to see the Smithsonian museums, monuments and historical sites. Mary Avanti joked that they’d “make the best of it” by seeing what they could and photographing themselves in front of shuttered buildings to prove later that they’d witnessed the first closing of the government in 17 years.
“It’s a really historic moment and I’m right here, seeing this happen with my own eyes,” Galina agreed. “It’s amazingly bad and kind of awesome at the same time.”
After days of sometimes angry debate and late-night sessions, House members were back Wednesday making the same arguments.
“One party wanted one thing and the other party wanted another,” Runzhi Song from the Chinese seaside city of Qingdao said after watching the debate from the House visitors’ gallery. Her English was good and though she didn’t understand all the legislative vocabulary, she got the drift. “I think they should work it out,” said Song, who was in town for only a day and already had seen the Statue of Liberty from a boat in New York Harbor but had been locked of out a tour there.
Karen and Burke Bradley of Fremont, Calif., watched the Senate proceedings for about a half-hour. They heard Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California talk about national security and thought she was interesting; and they heard Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah talk about jobs, but disagreed with at least some of what he said.
“It was very interesting, it was good to hear their perspective,” Burke Bradley said.
“I think you have to keep talking — at least they are not doing nothing,” he said, apologizing for the double negative.
Others seemed less interested in hearing more talk. Ten high school seniors in matching red blazers came from towns across Colorado to ask for something — continued money for their education program. They were members of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, which promotes leadership through family and consumer science education.
They met briefly with congressional staffers whom they described as frazzled by the shutdown, but didn’t get the tour they wanted.
“Adults make everything so complicated,” said Letha Plecker. “They just need to work as a team.”
Sixteen other teenagers from a history/government class at Union Springs Academy in upstate New York stood outside the Capitol as their two teacher-chaperones tried to find other sites to visit as an alternative to the canceled public tours of the Capitol.
“I talked to the students about it, that we’re going to see leaders who are not being responsible about doing their jobs, so now you can’t even get to see what you wanted to see,” said teacher Timothy Raymond, who’d been planning the trip for a year.
Others were so angry with Congress they lost their cool.
A woman paced briskly back and forth near the rotunda, screaming shrilly to anyone and everyone: “Don’t pay them!”
A man with three children in tow approached a shiny black SUV and shouted loudly through the tinted window: “Are you a U.S. representative? Please explain to my children why they can’t have their educational tour!”