Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Steamboat Springs When an anthrax scare was confirmed Tuesday in a letter sent to a Senate office building, the string of malicious behavior that has plagued the country for more than a month finally hit close to home for people who work on Capitol Hill.
When 31 staffers exposed to the letter in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office tested positive for anthrax on Wednesday, reality hit a littler harder.
But reality will only make Congress more determined to finish what they set out to do in the wake of Sept. 11, Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., said.
"It's one of the facts you face," McInnis said. "But you don't let it deter you."
McInnis said he is not surprised that congressional offices were the latest recipients of hostility.
"It's logical to suspect that we're next," he said. "We're a highly visible target."
Congressmen, their staff, and all other Hill employees vacated Senate and House buildings at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
They will return to work on Tuesday.
Several of McInnis' colleagues suggested that Congress continue to operate despite the discovery of anthrax, McInnis said, but to ignore such a grave health concern is to jeopardize the safety of the people who work on the Hill.
Their welfare takes precedence over the wishes of congressmen to continue their work, he added.
"We owe it to them to give them a sense of protection," he said.
About 20,000 people work at the Capitol.
"You could take all the offices of Routt County and put them in one of our office buildings," McInnis said.
Staff who work in McInnis' D.C. office have taken several precautions, Press Secretary Blain Rethmeier said.
All congressional staff were ordered to open mail with rubber gloves in response to anthrax being confirmed at NBC, he added.
Mail deliveries at the Capitol stopped Tuesday after anthrax bacteria were confirmed in the letter to Daschle's office.
"Our office is relatively small, so the mail has been the only setback so far," Rethmeier said.
Rethmeier encouraged constituents to voice their concerns via e-mail, fax or telephone.
District offices in Pueblo, Grand Junction, Durango and Glenwood Springs will handle any forwarded calls from the D.C. office until it reopens on Tuesday, he said.
McInnis flew back to Colorado on Wednesday.
Rethmeier said the congressman intends to meet with constituents over the next few days.
The people responsible for the anthrax scares have played upon the fear of Americans by targeting those in positions of influence and power as well as those who serve supporting roles to those positions, McInnis said.
He explained that he, like many congressmen, opens some of his mail.
"It's not unusual for me to open a letter from kids in grade school or grab the newspaper in the morning," McInnis said. "Whoever it is, they know that they're targeting a cross-section of people."
He said he hopes people's fears about further anthrax discoveries can be relieved by Tuesday.
But even reassurances from the top can not alter the new atmosphere that has settled on the Capitol, McInnis added.
"Everything has been reprioritized," McInnis said. "We're determined to eradicate the cancer which we are facing."