Congress convenes in New York
Lawmakers gather near 'battlefield' to remember
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a powerful and poignant display of solidarity, Congress convened Friday in battle-scarred New York City, a symbolic and rare gathering conducted in memory of last year's terror attacks.
"We will never forget the heartbreaking loss," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, during an hour-long ceremony at Federal Hall, four blocks from the site where the World Trade Center crumbled after being hit by two hijacked jets. "We will never forget the selfless heroes. We will never forget the terrible beauty that was born here, one year ago."
Vice President Dick Cheney, the president of the U.S. Senate, paid homage to the"valor, generosity and grace" displayed by New Yorkers in the weeks after the devastating September 11, 2001 attacks. He spoke of Ground Zero, the site where the World Trade Center once stood and where scores of workers, tourists and emergency workers met their death.
"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 11th," Cheney said.
About 300 members of the House and Senate attended Friday's congressional meeting -- the first in New York City since 1790. It was followed by a lunch hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and an afternoon wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero.
Last year's attacks killed more than 2,800 people when hijacked jets slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Pennsylvania. New York City bore the brunt of the attacks with the horrifying collapse of the towers.
"From this city's one day of horror -- out of all the loss and sorrow -- has come a strength, a resolve, a determination, which from Manhattan to Mississippi, now binds us together for the mighty work that lies ahead," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi.
A common theme expressed by many congressional leaders at the somber ceremony was that the terrorists failed to break America's spirit.
"What happened on September 11th did not diminish our strength," Daschle said. "It renewed it."
Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, said the day provided a chance for New Yorkers to express their gratitude for the outpouring of emotional and financial support the city received in the wake of September 11.
And, he added, "Congress wanted to say thank you to New Yorkers," from the firefighters and police to the citizenry.
"It's a very emotional day for us," Rangel said.
Gathering rare for Congress
The day began early as lawmakers left Washington, amid heavy security, on two specially charted Amtrak trains. Members of New York's congressional delegation greeted their colleagues upon their arrival in Manhattan.
"America has stuck behind New York, and we are extremely appreciative and grateful," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.
At the ceremony, lawmakers approved a joint congressional resolution in support of New York and the United States. U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins read a poem in honor of the victims, and the Stuyvesant High School Chamber Choir sang, "God Bless America." Once the choir finished, lawmakers joined in to sing another verse of the song.
The gathering concluded with a color guard representing the city's fire and police departments, state unified court system officers, the Port Authority police and the U.S. Capitol police.
The first Congress met in New York from the spring of 1789 to 1790 before moving to Philadelphia and then to Washington in 1800.
The old Federal Hall, where the first Congress met and where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president in 1789, was demolished long ago. The existing building was constructed in the early 1800s to service as a U.S. Customs House and later as a branch of the U.S. Treasury.
This is the second time in 202 years that lawmakers have convened outside of the nation's capital. In 1987, Congress held a session in Philadelphia to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Great Compromise creating the House and the Senate.
Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress met in New York from 1785 to 1789.
The congressional day trip to New York was paid by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation.
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