- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott yesterday called for Congress to adjourn rapidly as investigators verified an anthrax attack at the Capitol, part of a Senate building was closed and thousands were treated with antibiotics.
"There is a growing feeling that as soon as we can get our work done, that we should recess for the year," said Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican.
House Republican leaders, too, were focused at a closed meeting yesterday on wrapping up business as soon as possible. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois is expected to make that pitch to Republican lawmakers this morning.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and others said Congress should stay in session as long as necessary.
"Leaving town is no longer the panacea," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "That assumes it's less dangerous somewhere else. What we have to do is not run away from these problems, but address them."
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said adjourning Congress quickly would be "an outright admission of surrender."
Mail to Congress was halted for a second straight day as the probe into the first bioterrorist attack on the federal government intensified. Police closed 12 Senate offices and shut off ventilation in an eight-story wing of the Hart building where an aide in Mr. Daschle's state office opened an envelope containing anthrax Monday morning.
Mr. Daschle said new tests revealed that the envelope held high concentrations of a particularly deadly spore form of the bacteria that can be inhaled.
"It was a very potent form of anthrax that clearly was produced by somebody who knew what he or she was doing," Mr. Daschle said.
In another wing of the Hart building, Capitol physicians set up an emergency treatment station to test congressional aides with nasal swabs. As more than 2,000 people lined up, Capitol police also issued a plea for people who visited the Hart building on Monday to be checked by a doctor for possible exposure.
"We need to get the word out," said Lt. Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police. "It's not only people who work in the area, but it's also people who may have walked through the area or visited the building."
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson promised to station Deputy Surgeon General Ken Moritsugu at the Capitol indefinitely after anxious senators summoned Mr. Thompson yesterday for a meeting. Mr. Moritsugu will be available to coordinate policy and answer questions.
The closed offices were those of Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrats; Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican; Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican; Barbara Boxer, California Democrat; Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican; Max Baucus, Montana Democrat; Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat; Mr. Daschle; Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat; Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.
Staffs in those offices relocated to committee rooms in other buildings or doubled up in other Senate offices. Some lawmakers sent aides home. Police were testing air ducts for anthrax spores and said the wing should reopen in two or three days.
Several senators said they, too, planned to be tested for anthrax exposure. The test results are usually available within 24 to 48 hours, said Dr. John Eisold, attending Capitol physician.
Mr. Daschle said there is no evidence yet that any of his aides were contaminated. He said the clothing of the woman who opened the letter did not show any signs of anthrax contamination.
Most lawmakers vowed to press on with their work.
"We have a particular responsibility to carry out our duties here and not to add to the anxiety of the American people by overreacting," said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"We want to be here as long as it takes to do the things to respond, to help the president fight terrorism, to fight the battle overseas, and to get this economy turned around," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. "We are not moved one iota by anything that's happened here in our mission to do just that."
Amid the increased anxiety on Capitol Hill, however, there were also calls to finish the legislative agenda as quickly as possible and adjourn.
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said lawmakers are worried about their staffs.
"If we're a primary target, us leaving town limits the collateral damage to staff," Mr. Craig said.
Mr. Lott told reporters, "Once we get through the things that need to be done as a result of September 11th and get our appropriations bills through that then we [should] recess."
But even an anthrax attack could not defuse the partisan politics that are prolonging adjournment. Lawmakers in both parties acknowledged that ideological disputes over airline security, an economic stimulus package and judicial nominees will likely delay any recess until mid-November.
Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat who had criticized President Bush for not returning to Washington immediately on Sept. 11, said Congress must stay in town for the time being because it is "behind schedule."
"The budget deadline was Oct. 1," Mr. Meehan said in a statement. "The remaining bills have broad bipartisan support and are viewed as must-do items but the details need to be worked out. Beyond that, I support giving the leadership the authority to call Congress back into session in the case of an emergency or at the president's request."
While lawmakers and staff had many concerns, both the House and Senate planned to proceed with their schedules.
"I think under the circumstances, the Senate is functioning quite well," Mr. Daschle said.


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