This means that all three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — once again will have their headquarters open for public tours. And for travelers to Washington, D.C., if ever there were a fascinating time to see democracy in action, this is one.
Here’s how to see the fireworks up close:
-- At the White House, where it’s routine to suspend public tours during a change in administration, the resumption of free tours follows complaints by members of Congress, reported by the Washington Post, that this hiatus (about seven weeks) was lasting longer than in previous transitions.
To request a ticket, contact one of your congressional representatives at least 21 days in advance, but no more than three months ahead. In the past, most tours have been self-guided, available from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (except for federal holidays). The schedule is always subject to change. Info here.
Will the tours be different from those during previous presidents? There’s no word so far. But chances of glimpsing the first family would seem slim. Melania Trump and son Barron, 10, aren’t expected to move from Manhattan into the White House until sometime after the end of the school year
-- At the Capitol, where Congress deliberates, building tours are free, offered 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Most visitors make advance reservations through their representatives’ offices or the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s online reservations system, though some same-day tickets are available at the Capitol Visitor Center. (Expect long lines in spring and summer.)
The general tour includes a 13-minute orientation film and stops at the Capitol’s crypt, rotunda and National Statuary Hall. Many congressional offices also offer staff-led tours for constituents.
Be warned that parts of the building, including the dome interior, are under restoration, which could restrict access.
Whether or not you tour the Capitol, you can visit the congressional galleries to watch the House or Senate in session. These passes also are obtained by asking your congressional representatives.
-- A ninth justice is expected soon at the Supreme Court, which has been operating with eight since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. The proposed addition is Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge who is awaiting Senate confirmation.
Touring the Supreme Court building is easier than attending oral arguments, but both are possible and both involve waiting in line, not asking a member of Congress.
If looking around is enough for you, there is a 24-minute film for visitors and exhibitions on court history. Thirty-minute lectures are offered by docents every hour on weekdays when the court isn’t in session (first-come, first-served). When court is in session (the first Monday in October through June, usually, with holiday breaks), the lectures are offered after the justices have adjourned.
To hear oral arguments, check the court’s calendar, then make your plans. Your odds are best on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, October through April. As the court’s website notes, justices usually hear two hour-long oral arguments per day, at 10 and 11 a.m., with third or fourth hours added if the workload requires it.
Seating is limited and admission is first-come, first-served. (On days when a landmark ruling is expected, people have been known to hire line-standers to wait for them.)
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