Of the three branches of our government, many believe that the most important is the one directly elected by "We the People": the legislative branch, represented by the two houses of the U.S. Congress at the Capitol building. Join a group of middle schoolers on a tour of Washington, D.C. as they learn about the Constitution and what it means to be "We the People." The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
We the People – The U.S. Capitol
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC News:
Hi everyone, I'm Kristen Welker with NBC News. Today, we join a group of middle schoolers on a visit to the U.S. Capitol Building, home of Congress, and one of the three branches of our government, the legislature. It's here where you and I are represented, and where "We the People" come first.
Rep. DEB HAALAND (D-NM): America must live up to its values by treating everyone as equals and ending discrimination once and for all.
Rep. MIKE KELLY (R-PA): No, I will not yield. No! I will not yield.
Sen. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D-AR): The joint resolution is passed.
Sen. RAND PAUL (R-KY): The Constitution says that war shall be declared by Congress.
Speaker TIP O'NEILL (D-MA): You challenge their Americanism, and it's the lowest thing that I've ever seen!
Speaker PAUL RYAN (R-WI): Without objection, order.
Rep. KELLY: I’m hoping America's watching.
Sen. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): It was a earth-shattering, groundbreaking concept in 1787 that the people themselves were responsible for their government.
Speaker NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The aye's have it. The journal stands approved.
In the Constitution, the first branch of government is Article I, the legislative branch, which shall be composed of a House and the Senate.
Rep. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC): I strongly urge my colleagues to support the bill.
The founders wanted the legislative branch to be the most important branch because it's the branch that is directly elected by the people. My bosses are the people who elect me.
DION PRICE (USA Guided Tours): Ok, now, ladies and gentlemen, let's look at the grounds which we are on. This is Capitol Hill. The Capitol Building is the headquarters for Congress.
LAUREN WINDHAM ROSZAK (U.S. Capitol Visitor Center): In the Capitol, this is the home of the legislative branch. This is where the Senate and the House meet.
Speaker PELOSI: The main role is to be a check and balance on the other branches of government, to have oversight over how the executive branch, that would be the president, implements the will of Congress in legislation that we have passed.
PRICE: If you look to the left, that's the Senate wing. If you look to the right, that is the House wing.
Sen. BLUNT: This is an important time to send that message around the world.
Our Constitution designed this two-party legislature, one representing of the states, not of the population. The other more representing of the full population.
Rep. FOXX: We have 435 representatives. In the Senate there are 100 senators. So the Senate is composed of two senators per state so that gives even the small states the same representation in the Senate.
Sen. BLUNT: The Senate was designed so that the minority will always be heard.
Rep. FOXX: The House though has proportional representation based on the size of the state.
Speaker PELOSI: Congress of the United States works its will by legislation passing the House, passing the Senate, going to the president for his signature. If the president does not sign, or vetoes the bill, then by two-thirds vote in each house, the Congress can stop that action of the president.
Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I think it goes a long way to showing that we really can come together.
When a vote is called, we will have the role read by a clerk. Each senator will vote in person by either an ‘aye’ or a ‘nay.’ Now, in the House of Representatives, they have electronic voting machines.
Rep. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D-NC): Members will record their vote by electronic device. This is a five-minute vote.
Rep. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): This resolution puts the United States Congress on the record as being on the side of the people.
But in our government, the power comes from the people. And we represent the people.
Speaker PELOSI: Nothing is more of a privilege than the constituents of your district saying you speak for me on the floor of the House of Representatives.
PRICE: See the statue on top of the Capitol? You know the name of that statue is Freedom. She's 19 and a half feet tall from head to toe.
STEVE LIVENGOOD (U.S. Capitol Historical Society): The workers were enslaved African Americans. On April 16, 1862, Congress abolished slavery here in Washington, D.C. And the effect was that those very men working on the Statue of Freedom got their freedom while they were working on it.
PRICE: Because of the Statue of Freedom facing east, the sun will rise on the face of Freedom, but it won't set on the face of Freedom.
At its creation in 1789, the legislative branch was the most innovative.
Rule by kings and emperors was an old style of government, and the legislature in many ways represented the new. Almost certainly, the founders intended Congress to have more important powers than the president and the Supreme Court. However, they placed many checks and balances on the legislature that have prevented absolute power in the hands of one branch. Founders controlled power not only by checks from the other branches, but by creating a bicameral, or two-house, Congress: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The powers of Congress, then, are both constitutional and evolutionary.
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