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Historic events in House chamber

By By Jo Bonner
Throughout the long and distinguished history of the House of Representatives and the Senate, there have been perhaps no more significant events that have occurred than the joint sessions and meetings of Congress.
These formal events, which take place in the U.S. Capitol's House chamber, have occurred many times since the first joint session in April 1789. On that occasion, representatives and senators gathered to complete the counting and certification of electoral votes in the nation's first presidential election.
Over the years, the distinction between a "meeting" and "session" has become more defined -- the former occurring as the result of a resolution authorizing the two legislative chambers to adjourn for a brief meeting, while the latter is the result of a resolution authorizing a more formal meeting for conducting official business.
The list of speakers at these gatherings has indeed been impressive. In addition to the annual state of the union addresses presented by each president, the House chamber has also been the site of such historic events as General Douglas MacArthur's "old soldiers never die" speech in 1951 and Prime Minister Winston Churchill's memorable address in 1952.
Last week, we were extremely honored to host another in a long and distinguished line of speakers before the House of Representatives and Senate. The Honorable Tony Blair, British prime minister, stood before a joint session and delivered an outstanding but solemn speech on the turmoil and difficulties facing the world today.
In one of the most eloquent presentations I have ever had the privilege of hearing, the prime minister discussed the war on terrorism, the changing face of Europe and how we should all take the lessons of the past to prepare for the trials of the future.
His words spoke to the heart of many of the challenges Great Britain, America and all countries face today. Our two great nations are, as he said, "bound together as never before. Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs."
It was indeed a powerful speech from a tremendous friend to this country.
During the past century, the United States has had no greater ally than Great Britain. Beginning with the First World War, our two countries have stood shoulder-to-shoulder to fight some of the worst nations and dictators in the history of the world. Most recently, the British government was our staunchest ally during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and continues to provide valuable support in both regions.
The prime minister has endured some strong criticism at home for his support of certain aspects of the war on terror -- even some fairly heated comments from members of his own party. Indeed, his approval ratings in Great Britain in recent weeks have dropped to 46 percent. While not good, these numbers still rank higher than the ratings of former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major after six years in office.
This has certainly been a difficult time for the prime minister. At this point, his future at 10 Downing Street is uncertain, along with the leadership of his party.
However, if for no other reason, Tony Blair deserves our respect for acting in the best interests of his nation and the world. All too often we see leaders swayed by public opinion. The prime minister has gone against this norm -- his courageous stand was based on his personal convictions and not on polling data.
Travel schedule underway
One of the services provided for the constituents of the First District involves a bit of outreach. I am aware that many of you, are unable to come to either my Mobile or Baldwin County offices when you need assistance with a specific problem.
Because of this, I have continued the tradition of sending members of my staff on regular swings through the district. In this way, I am able to bring the services provided by the House of Representatives directly to the people who need them.