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What Is the US Capitol Building?

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In 1863, the American poet Walt Whitman wrote approvingly about the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.

Whitman described the building as calm and confident. And he said the Capitol's dome made it easily recognized and seen throughout the Washington area.

Whitman called the dome "a vast eggshell, built of iron and glass." He also likened it to a bubble, a tiara, and a "towering bulge of pure white."

Today, the Capitol building is still a well-known symbol of the U.S. government. Although some people confuse it with the White House, where the president lives, it is the home of the U.S. Congress. In other words, the Capitol is the place where the country's lawmakers meet to discuss, make and approve legislation. The House of Representatives meets in the building's south wing. The Senate meets in its north wing.

The two large meeting rooms for lawmakers are called chambers. Usually House members and senators meet in their own chambers. But from time to time, they gather together in the House chamber, which is larger.

These gatherings are called joint sessions of Congress. They happen at least once a year when the president gives a speech that is called the State of the Union address. Sometimes joint sessions of Congress happen after an election or when a foreign leader speaks.

U.S. lawmakers also gather at the Capitol when a president is sworn-in. Years ago, those swearing-in ceremonies – called inaugurations – sometimes took place inside the building. But today they usually are held outside. Many people who have never visited Washington, DC may still recognize the Capitol building because they have seen pictures of it during a presidential inauguration.

And those who come to Washington can visit the Capitol building in person. The U.S. Capitol Visitors Center can hold up to 4,000 people at one time. Visitors can see the building up close, learn its history and even listen to lawmakers debate the issues of the day.

I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

confident - adj. having a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

dome - n. a large rounded roof or ceiling that is shaped like half of a ball

vast - adj. very great in size, amount, or extent

tiara - n. a small crown

bulge - n. a rounded lump on the surface of something

symbol - n. an object that expresses a particular idea

confuse - v. to mistakenly think that one person or thing is another person or thing

joint - adj. combining the work of two or more groups of people

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