Travel Tips

Sen. Harry Reid on Smelly Tourists and the Capitol Visitor Center

Locations in this article:  Madison, WI Seattle, WA

Capitol Building exteriorAmerica’s capital has a new tourist attraction: the Capitol Visitor Center.

Washington, DC has more than its share of government-related monuments, and perhaps appropriately, this particular project was over budget, finished late and was the subject of partisan, religious-tinged wrangling.

The Center, located to the east of the Capitol building and completely underground, was opened to the public on December 2nd.

At the Center’s dedication, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) called it “an engineering feat that will stand the test of time, making this building and those who work within it safer while enriching the visitor’s experience for the three million who will come here every year.”

This “feat” cost about $620 million (vs. the $265 million originally budgeted).

Sen. Reid also remarked on one positive aspect of the millions spent: the center’s high-quality ventilation system. Reid said, “In the summertime, because (of) the high humidity and how hot it gets here, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol.”

That’s no longer an issue, according to Reid.

Sen. Jim DeMintWhile some conservatives protested this fairly un-PC description of visitors to the nation’s capital city, more right-wing officials seemed to be upset by what they described as a downplaying of the aspects of faith of the nation’s founding fathers.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina, at left) complained that the “most prominent display proclaims faith not in God, but in government.”

After having previously threatened to try to block the opening, Sen. DeMint issued a statement that declared: “You cannot accurately tell the history of America or its Capitol by ignoring the religious heritage of our Founders and the generations since who relied on their faith for strength and guidance.”

Of course, this might be termed a fairly subjective reading of history considering the views of many of the founding fathers.

Thomas JeffersonAmerica’s 4th President, James Madison, once wrote: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

Ben Franklin declared: “In the affairs of the world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the lack of it.”

And no less than Thomas Jefferson (at right) declared in Notes on the State of Virginia:

Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

Fortunately for Sen. DeMint, these quotes were not among the various artifacts on display.

Among the artifacts that are on display are Thomas Jefferson’s justification for funding the Lewis and Clark expedition, George Washington’s letter informing Congress of the victory at Yorktown and a ceremonial copy of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery signed by Abraham Lincoln.

The center can accommodate up to 4,000 visitors at a time, which should reduce the long lines that once snaked around the Capitol, exposing tourists to rain, snow, or the summer sun.

Related Links: Fox News, Capitol Visitor Center, Seattle Times, Washington Post

By Matthew Calcara for

Want easy ways to learn more about America? Don’t miss America’s Accessible Heritage.

Like traveling green? Check out Capital Green: Washington DC’s Eco-Tourism Cred.

Check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Washington, DC.