Historical Highlights

The House of Representatives Responds to the September 11th Attacks

September 12, 2001–September 13, 2001
The House of Representatives Responds to the September 11th Attacks Image used with permission by Douglas Graham, Roll Call newspaper Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma addressed Members of Congress in the Capitol Rotunda honoring the lives of those lost in the attacks the day before.
On this date, the House of Representatives began its legislative response to the challenges of the new post-September 11th world. Due to security threats the previous day, lawmakers were not permitted to go into session upon returning to the Capitol on Tuesday night. The House reconvened Wednesday morning at 10:03 a.m., continuing the legislative day of September 11, 2001. House Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin offered a prayer, followed by the approval of the House Journal and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Given the circumstances, the Speaker canceled an address by Australian Prime Minister John Howard scheduled that day before a Joint Meeting of Congress in the House Chamber. In announcing the postponement, Hastert extended “on behalf of the House, his appreciation for the solidarity of the Australian people and the presence of the Prime Minister today in this very difficult time.” Majority Leader Richard K. Armey of Texas informed Members that the House would hear one-minute speeches and recess until 12:30 p.m. for a classified intelligence briefing in the House Chamber. Two pieces of legislation occupied the House’s attention on that somber Wednesday afternoon. First, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio introduced H. Con. Res. 223, authorizing the use of the Rotunda for a prayer vigil that evening, which quickly passed both houses. Second, Majority Leader Armey and Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the Minority Leader, jointly sponsored H.J. Res. 61, legislation that condemned the attacks, offered condolences to the victims and families, and paid tribute to the rescue workers. Furthermore, the resolution reaffirmed that America "is entitled to respond under international law” and that the House “supports the determination of the President, in close consultation with Congress, to bring to justice and punish the perpetrators of these attacks as well as their sponsors.” At the evening’s prayer vigil, Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma delivered remarks to those gathered in the Rotunda. “Our hearts go out to all the victims and all the people that were involved in the tragedy that we experienced,” Watts intoned. “We know firsthand that nothing can replace the loss that was felt yesterday, and that only time and love and prayers can begin to heal the wounds.” After the ceremony the House reconvened for five hours and thirty minutes to afford all Members the opportunity to speak. The House passed H.J. Res. 61, at 1:07 a.m. on Thursday, September 13, by a vote of 408 to 0, declaring September 12, 2001, a “National Day of Unity and Mourning.” At 1:10 a.m., the House adjourned “out of respect to the victims of the terrorist attacks.”

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