Washington (CNSNews.com) – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed relief that he would no longer be able to smell visitors to the United States Capitol, thanks to the new $621 million Capitol Visitors Center (CVC).
The center, which opened Tuesday, will now be the main public entrance for the Capitol.
“You could literally smell the tourists coming in to the Capitol,” Reid (D-Nev.) said in his remarks at the opening ceremonies.
“That’s no longer the case,” he added, now that tourists can wait in the new, underground visitors’ center before embarking on their pre-booked, guided tour of the Capitol.
Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Mo.) called the U.S. Capitol “the people’s temple.”
The three-level, 580,000 square foot facility will feature two movie theaters, a souvenir shop, a large auditorium, a 450-seat restaurant, and an exhibition hall featuring various historical exhibits.
“There are many bathrooms here,” Reid said, highlighting the amenities the center offers tourists as they wait for a tour. “We have restaurants where people can sit and take it easy if they want. Souvenirs here are available, for people coming out of the Capitol.”
“Today,” Reid said, “the people’s temple shines brighter than before.”
Its opening was a bipartisan celebration, with the Marine Corps Band and Congressional Chorus serenading the room full of invited guests before the leadership of both parties addressed the crowd and the nation’s former poet laureate, Rita Dove, recited a special composition.
Coming on the same day floundering U.S. automakers returned to Capitol Hill to beg lawmakers for a multi-billion bailout of their dying industry, Congressional leaders put partisanship aside to christen the new center.
Pelosi, highlighting the name of the center’s Emancipation Hall, said she felt that the spirits of the slaves who constructed the original building still reside there.
“The Capitol was built by slaves,” she said, beginning a story about Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. “I believe the spirits of those people still live in these halls.”
Wrong National Motto, ‘Left-leaning’ exhibits
The Capitol Visitors Center, however, has not come without its fair share of controversy, due in large part to the fact that it has cost nearly nine times its original estimate of $71 million and is a full three years behind schedule.
Another item of controversy has come from conservative lawmakers who are upset that the Center carved the wrong national motto into its main exhibition hall.
The inscription originally read “E Pluribus Unum” -- Latin for “out of many, one.” The actual national motto is “In God We Trust.” The incorrect phrase has been plastered over.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R- Va.), leader of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, led the fight in Congress to have the correct motto added -- and to have the Pledge of Allegiance displayed prominently in the Center. Originally, the Pledge had been omitted from displays.
“The current displays are left-leaning and in some cases distort our true history,” DeMint said in a statement released Tuesday criticizing the center. Exhibits portray the federal government as the fulfillment of human ambition and the answer to all of society’s problems,” he said
DeMint called the center’s historical exhibits “an intentional misrepresentation of our nation’s real history, and an offensive refusal to honor America's God-given blessings.”
He added: “The (Visitors Center’s) most prominent display proclaims faith not in God, but in government.”