Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Congressional aides resume work

Many defy fear of anthrax

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — The easy thing would be to stay home, maybe sleep later than usual, or catch a little television while the guys in the moon suits sweep the office for anthrax.

        But that would be caving — paws up — to the terrorists, and when your office is the U.S. Senate, caving is not cool.

        So Ann O'Donnell was on the train from suburban Virginia with her laptop Tuesday morning, using the commute to write a speech on bioterrorism for her boss, Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.

        Shut off from the Russell Senate Office Building because of the anthrax threat, Ms. O'Donnell and a handful of other staffers came in and set up temporary quarters in a Capitol annex.

        “They have not won,” Ms. O'Donnell said of the terrorists. “In fact, I think this has made us stronger.”

        Tuesday was the day Congress was supposed to return to normal, the day when 28,000 Capitol Hill staffers would come back to their offices after hazardous-materials crews searched for anthrax. But all of the test results were not completed, and with the death of two postal workers from inhalation anthrax, no one was in the mood to take risks.

        The six main Senate and House office buildings remained closed. Lawmakers in both chambers had official sessions while staffers opened makeshift workstations in nooks of the Capitol, and at Postal Square and the General Accounting Office downtown.

        Each lawmaker was allowed only a few aides at the temporary spaces, so many others worked from home or made do with meetings in coffee shops or restaurants.

        John Haseley, chief of staff to Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, commandeered a couch in the congressman's apartment on Capitol Hill. Scott Milburn, a spokesman for Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and other aides took over a park bench near the Senate before moving into Postal Square.

        The well-connected, such as Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, House liaison to the White House, already have access to offices inside the Capitol itself. But other lawmakers and their aides had to get creative.

        Mike Malaise, a spokesman for Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Ky., chose to work at his apartment after hearing about hiccups with telephones and computers at the GAO.

        “It would be no computers or anything,” Mr. Malaise said. “It would be basically three guys just sitting around.”

        Kevin Fitzpatrick, the legislative director for Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, made the best of an outpost at the GAO.

        “It's kind of like moving a small army,” he said. “I think everyone is just trying to cope.”

        Some House lawmakers were wounded from criticism they had somehow chickened out last week by adjourning early while the Senate stayed in session. But that was before traces of anthrax were found in a House building, before the postal workers died, before anthrax was detected in a remote White House mail facility.

        “It made the House look weak,” said Mr. Strickland, of Lucasville, who thought lawmakers should have stayed at the Capitol while congressional office buildings were inspected. “But I think people understand now that this is a serious situation.”


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