WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a frenetic and packed week for me, reporting in the nation’s capital rather than back home in Boise. I have several stories in the works as a result, and am looking forward to them.

But I did take a small amount of time while I was there to tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, to which I had never been. The museum is remarkable; its lessons, chilling.

Not just the horror and atrocities of the Holocaust are brought home by a visit there, though they most certainly are. What I found even more remarkable was the way the museum told the story of how Hitler rose to power in Germany, how he was seen as simply a fringe politician who wasn’t taken seriously, and how he built his power and used it to spread his racist ideology throughout society, both in Germany and in the European nations he increasingly invaded, conquered and annexed. How other nations tried to appease him, not believing he could go as far as he did. How fear of the other and anti-immigration sentiment in nations around the world doomed Hitler’s victims. How it took a world war to finally end the genocidal terror he imposed on Europe, and how millions of innocents died before it ended.

At the same time I was learning all this, back home in Idaho, the Idaho Press broke the story that an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying political hopeful from California is mounting a run for city council in Garden City, on an openly anti-Semitic platform.

When Patrick Little ran last year (extremely unsuccessfully) against California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein — the former mayor of San Francisco, the longest-serving female U.S. senator, and one of nine Jewish members of the Senate — he proclaimed that he wanted a United States “free from Jews.”

As I learned at the museum, those were Hitler’s exact words.

Signs at the Holocaust Museum urged visitors to think about what they saw and learned there. On the museum’s website, it says, “Help us educate new generations about Holocaust history and its relevance today.”

And banners throughout and outside the museum carried this message to all: “What you do matters.”


I’d only been on Capitol Hill for an hour on Monday morning, and I ran into three people from Idaho. More followed as the week continued.

I also strolled past a towering white pine — the official state tree of Idaho — on the Capitol lawn. A brass plaque on the tree said it was planted by the late U.S. Sen. Jim McClure from Idaho in 1975.


Watching the opening of Tuesday’s Senate session from the press gallery — where we reporters are not allowed to take any photos or use any electronics (!) — I heard Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his left arm in a sling, rip into Senate Democrats for what he described as putting up “a familiar litany of partisan stumbling blocks” before the appropriations process, which includes 12 appropriations bills that need to pass.

He said he’s now heard that minority Democrats won’t vote for a defense spending bill that they agreed to support a month ago, frustrating the process “the American people deserve” for appropriate spending of their tax money. Shortly after his comments, he sent out a tweet, saying, “It would be a grave mistake if Democrats block the Senate from moving forward with defense funding legislation this week.”

Then, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer had his say. He shot back, saying, “I’ve heard some howlers in my day, but that’s pretty rich, what Leader McConnell is saying.”

He accused Republicans of backing President Trump’s demand to shift billions from other programs, including the military, to fund a wall on the nation’s southern border with Mexico. “McConnell has been accusing Democrats of blocking military funding because we don’t want to pass a bill that steals money from the military,” Schumer declared. He also noted that negotiations are ongoing “on a continuing resolution to keep the government open past next week.”


As I finished my second full day in D.C., I’d already violated rules or protocol twice — neither intentionally. First, I named my young Capitol tour guide in a blog post; because the guide was an intern for Sen. Jim Risch, he qualified as a congressional staffer who can’t be named or quoted, who speaks only on background. I didn’t realize!

And then, I took what I thought might be a pretty cool photo of Sen. Risch entering the Senate chamber for a vote. A security guard immediately accosted me and demanded I delete the photo. There was a photographer with a large camera right next to me who was taking photos of everyone who went in or out. I didn’t understand.

It finally was explained to me later: Pictures aren’t allowed of the door to the Senate chamber. If the camera is pointed the other way, it’s fine.

When I struggled to figure out how to delete just one image on my camera (I usually “erase all” after downloading them), the guard informed me that I’d committed a “major violation.” Fortunately, I wasn’t keelhauled or ejected.

After that, I seemed to navigate all the protocols correctly.


When I went on a tour of the Capitol — marvelous architecture and statues — my young tour guide, who was from Nampa, saw a metaphor in how the U.S. Capitol building seems to be constantly under construction (much of the House wing is currently swathed in plastic, with various work ongoing), just as is our democracy, the oldest one in the world. By the way, the dome of the U.S. Capitol weighs 8.9 million pounds, and was completed in 1866, during the Civil War.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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