- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

From combined dispatches
President Bush designated Attorney General John Ashcroft to stay away from his State of the Union speech last night, making Mr. Ashcroft the successor to lead the government should catastrophe strike at the Capitol.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, hospitalized for a back condition, was also absent. The absence of a Cabinet secretary maintained a long-standing tradition that one member not attend presidential addresses to Congress.
In another move, related to post-September 11 worst-case scenarios, 800 masks were kept ready in case of a chemical or bioterrorism attack during Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech, officials said.
Police took no chances before Mr. Bush's arrival, sealing off roads around the Capitol building while every room was checked by bomb-sniffing dogs.
Journalists covering the speech were shown a short police video on how to use the masks in case of a gas or chemical attack.
A House of Representatives press gallery official said 800 masks were stocked in the corridors around the chamber before Mr. Bush spoke.
"It is extremely important that you do not panic," said an expert in the video presentation.
All levels of the Capitol were filled with uniformed and undercover security. All traffic would be kept away from a three-block radius around the Capitol and the Capitol area. Other key parts of Washington were designated no-fly zones, police officials said.
Mr. Ashcroft stayed in an undisclosed location as the rest of Mr. Bush's Cabinet, top military aides and three Supreme Court justices gathered for the State of the Union address.
Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Housing Secretary Mel Martinez don't have to worry about being designated the "missing Cabinet member" at such speeches. Both are naturalized citizens, barred by the Constitution from serving as president.

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