As you know, “On the Record” ends at 11 p.m. East Coast time. Usually when I walk out of the FNC bureau, the streets are empty and Washington feels like a ghost town. But Thursday night I walked out and the place was buzzing. Why? Because the bureau is on Capitol Hill (search) and thousands were going to the Capitol to say farewell to President Reagan, or are leaving the Capitol having done so.
I have never seen Capitol Hill so busy at such a late hour. Usually the area feels a bit dangerous at that hour, but not last night. It was late, but I thought I should go to the Capitol and did. The Capitol showed its usual grandeur -- and the citizens pouring in and out of the Capitol added to the grandeur.
In a city divided by politics, it was actually a relief to see everyone paying respects without regard to political affiliation. For a moment it seemed like people were laying down the swords and that he ugly side of politics does not exist. (And, as an aside, both parties are guilty of political attacks and meanness -- don't kid yourself and think it is just the "other" party. Both parties point fingers but both are guilty.)
I arrived a few minutes after President Bush 41 had just exited. I was told he came in very quietly -- no fanfare -- paid his respects and left.
When I left the lines were still weaving around Capitol Hill and only growing. I asked someone what was going to be done about those standing in line when the viewing in the Capitol had to end. Obviously there would come a time when they would have to begin the trip to the National Cathedral in the morning. I was told the Speaker's office had come up with a plan. They would tell those remaining in line to form around the west steps of the U.S. Capitol so that they could see the procession out of the Capitol. While they would not be able to see the casket in the Capitol rotunda draped with a flag, they would see the escort from the Capitol. You might think that "second place," but the military procession is so magnificent that they will not be disappointed.
I should add that while much attention is on the President in the rotunda, it might be worth noting what a great job the Capitol Hill police have done and all those who work in the U.S. Capitol. With no notice, they opened the Capitol around the clock and efficiently moved thousands and thousands of people through the Capitol. It was not a simple matter of opening the door -- it required crowd coordination, security checks, etc.
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