This week most members of the House and Senate are back in their districts or states meeting with constituents or otherwise conducting business there. A few have stayed in Washington to take part in hearings that are scheduled this week, although since many hearings are now held virtually, they do not necessarily have to be in Washington.
Many of you will no doubt remember that we used to celebrate both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays separately. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved several federal holidays to Mondays.
The change was designed to schedule certain holidays so that workers had several long weekends throughout the year, but it was opposed by those who believe that those holidays should be celebrated on the dates they actually commemorate.
During debate on the bill, it was proposed that Washington’s Birthday be renamed Presidents’ Day to honor the birthdays of both Washington (February 22) and Lincoln (February 12); although Lincoln’s birthday was celebrated in many states, it was never an official federal holiday. Following much discussion, Congress rejected the name change. After the bill went into effect in 1971, however, Presidents’ Day became the commonly accepted name, due in part to retailers’ use of that name to promote sales and the holiday’s proximity to Lincoln’s birthday. Presidents’ Day is usually marked by public ceremonies in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.
Since 1893, the Senate has observed Washington’s birthday by selecting one of its members to read Washington’s Farewell Address. The assignment alternates between members of each political party. At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leather-bound book maintained by the secretary of the Senate.
This year, on Tuesday, February 16, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, will be reading Washington’s address. Portman has announced that he will be retiring from the Senate when his term expires next year.