Moments in Washington
November 23, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As our reporters explored Washington, D.C., we collected memories and experiences from various places around the city. Here are some of the moments that our reporters found around the capital.
A peek inside the impeachment hearings
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cars sped past the Longworth Building in Washington D.C. as huddles of people gathered on the front steps. A small radio blared out a mashup edit of President Trump’s various speeches while a middle-aged man lifted his protest-adorned umbrella against the dimming sky. The crisp autumn air carried a sense of urgency and tension.
Another protester clutching a sign emblazoned with the word “nanothermite” stepped in front of the man with the umbrella. The two exchanged aggressive brusque comments, neither wanting to give up his position.
Not far from the two men, a security guard kept watch over the doorway leading into the building. The second public testimony of President Trump’s impeachment drove members of the Congress and the public to the Longworth Office Building to observe presidential advisor Fiona Hill and ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimonies on Thursday Nov. 21.
Visitors streamed through the wooden double doors and proceeded to toss their belongings into small plastic crates that passed into a heavy metal scanner machine. The queue briskly moved through a metal detector with intermittent pauses.
On the sides of the security setup, broadcasters and videographers stood among an intense tangle of black wires and bulky bags, passing time like wind-up dolls waiting to spring into action. Vigilant uniform-clad security guards observed the mass of people gathering in the right interior hallway.
A boisterous, extensive line of women and men dressed in variegated attire waiting to enter the impeachment hearing dotted the corridor with color. The dark gray tiles distorted the dots of light and the reverb of clacking shoes echoed sharply along the hallway. Flags from different countries lined the edges of the walls, drawing the eye to their vivid color, bold against the pale hue of the wall. Congressmen’s plaques stood posted on the outsides of their offices.
Drowsiness and stress swarmed among the crowd. People shuffled about in discomfort, engaging in agitated conversations and reiterating the same question: “How much longer will it take for me to reach the front?”
The slow flow of those leaving the brightly-lit room resulted in a queue that seemed to be stuck in quicksand. From the end of the hallway threshold to the double doors, people waited in hopes of witnessing one of the key moments of the decade. The anticipation permeating throughout the Longworth Building captured the essence of this pivotal moment in history, the suspended feeling of being on the edge of change.
A glance into democracy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight blue panels, eight auburn circles, eight chandelier baubles. Ornate decor embellishes the hallway ceiling. Only a couple feet away, one door opens to a room inundated with passionate voices. All four corners are lined with blue wallpapers, surrounding rows of balcony level public seating. Themes on medical professions, healthcare, workplace safety and sexual harassment reverberate through the room. Individuals focus on detailed notes, yet only one voice speaks at a time. Gentleman from Texas yields. Gentlewoman from North Carolina yields. Gentleman from Connecticut yields. Gentleman from Maryland yields.
On the other side of the notable marble building, a similar room echoes the atmosphere of the House of Representatives. Only smaller, the Senate mimics the democratic importance of voting. One-by-one names echo from the epicenter of the gallery. Navy-blue-adorned high school interns fasten their hands on golden handles. They open the many glass doors of the senate floor as senators trail in to vote in waves.
“Yea”s. “Nay”s. Nods. Thumbs ups. Thumbs downs. The process of democratic voting is exhibited simply.
Holly jolly holiday market
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The scent of frying batter and sugar from a stall selling donuts hangs in the air. Crowds of people bundled in winter scarves and puffy coats stroll through. Muted chattering floats around the shops, masked by a baritone rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which filters through the speakers tucked away in the upper corners of tents.
With this Friday marking the opening day of Washington D.C.’s annual Holiday Market, which closes right before Christmas, many tourists and locals alike traveled to the market to get a head start on holiday shopping. Maryland resident Maile Kahara visits the Holiday Market around two to three times a year and loves not only its close proximity to museums and workplaces but also its local focus.
“At the holidays, I travel back to my family and go visit my friends, and this is a very good place to get very local products,” Kahara said as she stood outside a booth selling handmade ornaments and wood figurines. “You have a lot of local artists who will come and display their artwork, their crafts, and it’s a very good place to see all that in one place.”
Housed in white canvas tents with red flags on top, the shops sell a variety of wares: from knits, soap, jewelry and glass ornaments to white T-shirts with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s face on them. Lit by bright lights hanging inside the tents, glass wares, ceramics and jewelry glitter at passers-by. Fruity and floral scents drift out from a shop selling soap.
One store owner, dressed in a purple wool headband and matching scarf, points out a slender silver necklace embellished with a single dangling pendant as she smiles and explains the uniqueness of her brand, which uses detonated bomb fragments from Laos to create jewelry, to a customer.
Cinnamon aromas flow from the churro stand that marks the end of the rows of tents. A little before this stand but still near the intersection of Ninth Street and F Street hangs an identical banner to the one that greets shoppers at the other end of the market. On the side visible to those leaving the path of kiosks, the banner wishes Holiday Market customers farewell. “Thank you for Shopping,” it reads.
From the Capitol to Cortez: Our quest for interviews
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The gleaming white dome of the Capitol towered above us, sparkling in the morning autumn light. Groups of visitors dotted the lawn opposite the seat of Congress and posed on its marble steps, their eager tourism unperturbed by the armed police patrolling every entrance and exit. Circling around the front of the building, each set of imposing doors were cordoned off, whether they be under construction or laced with a velvet rope railing kindly offering access to “Members Only.”
We were on a mission: Our eyes were set on obtaining the coveted congressional press credentials that would allow us access to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) press conference at 10:45 that morning, which closely followed U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland’s pivotal testimony in the impeachment hearings on Wednesday. We wanted to be in the room where news happened, but for the time being, we were lost.
After circling the Capitol around and back again, we found the public entrance to the Capitol tucked away at the foot of a staircase. Briefly held back at security by unknowingly bringing along two water bottles, we finally pushed through two sets of glass doors and found ourselves standing above the Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center.
We cautiously approached the appointment desk to inquire after press credentials and were told to contact Pelosi’s office directly, which we did, but the office redirected us to the Capitol’s press gallery, who then rejected our request and instead redirected us back to Pelosi’s office. After a series of circuitous calls between offices and representatives in a chaotic game of phone tag, we decided to chase after our credentials in person and find the press officers themselves.
Rushing across the street to the Longworth House Office Building, home to the impeachment hearings and the location of one of Pelosi’s multiple offices, we were once again screened by a sensitive metal detector suspicious of a phone. Pushing through the hordes of tourists and vigilant guards, we strode as confidently as possible to Pelosi’s workroom, the last of offices on the second floor.
Rather than finding the Speaker at her desk, we had yet another conversation with a staffer, who offered another number—this time, the number of Pelosi’s press office—to call, which we did, although to no avail.
If journalism has taught us one lesson, it would be how to pivot when we run up against dead ends. Upon hearing Pelosi’s media representative Joe Costello’s answer that no, we would not be able to cover the press conference, we decided to turn next door and visit the Cannon Office Building, where we knew freshman representative and rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) housed her office.
We found her office immediately. It wasn’t hard: The walls around her office’s door and even the door itself was covered with bright Post-it notes that bore messages to the representative, many of love, support and gratitude. Five notes spelled out “Q-U-E-E-N,” another encouraged “BX represent” while others thanked her for inspiration or urged her to champion various causes.
Hopeful for the possibility of an interview with the staffers, we stepped inside the office and were met immediately with a small Lightbox that read “NY-14 Bronx,” paired with a map of Ocasio-Cortez’s district in New York, and a glass jar filled with packets of Starbursts and Skittles. A young staffer with curly shoulder-length hair and large glasses greeted us, and we informed her of our hopes. A wooden door set behind the front desk, following a common layout of previous offices, stood closed, and its golden doorknob caught the daylight.
Just as we spelled out the “q” in Harker Aquila for the staffer at the front desk, the door behind her opened, and Ocasio-Cortez herself casually stepped into the small waiting area. Dressed in a checkered tan suit, a smile graced her face as she eagerly walked over to us, preceding to shake our hands as we stumbled through our introductions, barely able to contain our astonishment. Letting ourselves slip for a moment from the viewpoint of a composed reporter, we put our hearts to words and voiced our admiration for the young congresswoman, who smiled and graciously laughed at our enthusiasm.
We had entered with the goal of interviewing a staff member and left in an astounded haze—unfortunately so much so that we had missed the opportunity of snapping a photograph of Ocasio-Cortez.
Despite the missed moment, we were inspired by the brief meeting to set our resolve on chasing the possibility of an interview with the congresswoman. In order to obtain interviews with the staffers, we were required to contact the office’s communications director, who was regrettably stranded on vacation. Over the next day, we relentlessly contacted the communications team from two different phone numbers and two different emails.
After exchanging interview requests and logistics for the House of Representatives, we were told by a staffer that the next open slots would be delayed until December, possibly at her district office in New York, since we had met her on the last day while Congress was still in session. And though we lost the chance for an interview on this trip, we will nevertheless continue chasing our goal with even the hint of a hope.