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Text: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2001

Following is the text Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's news conference on the counterterrorism bill and the reopening of the Capitol.

DASCHLE: Well, Russell is up and running. We're very pleased that we were able to open up the Russell Building this morning, and our expectation is that we'll be able to open up the Dirksen Building no later than Friday, including the mail room. We are cleaning it up in the next 24 hours, and depending on how long it takes, our expectation is that at the very latest next Monday it will be completely opened; that is, the Dirksen building will be completely opened.

We're also looking at ways with which to open part of the Hart Building. Today, senators will be free to go in to retrieve items if they wish. And we're hoping to seal off the affected segment of the building and perhaps allow access permanently to certain floors, and we're looking at ways with which to do that by next week. So we want to get as back to normal as quickly as we can and allowing senators the opportunity to get back into their offices is a part of our ability to do that.

The floor is going to be occupied today by the debate, of course, on the foreign ops bill. We're very pleased that the Republicans have made their decision to allow us to proceed on the appropriations bills and we'll try to finish the foreign ops bill today or tomorrow at the latest and move on to other appropriations bills.

Terrorism is going to be a big part of the agenda, as you might expect. I think it is possible we could pass the counterterrorism bill by the end of the day tomorrow. The House may be taking it up today, as you know.

QUESTION: They passed it.

DASCHLE: They did pass it.

So having passed it, we'll take it up then shortly. It's a good bill and I am very pleased with the work product here. It deals, as you know, with money laundering in addition to counterterrorism and it represents a pretty wide agreement.

I expect a pretty overwhelming vote, and I think that's as it should be. A lot of good work has been done.

We're also going to deal with bioterrorism. Senator Kennedy has been working very closely with Senator Frist and others--Senator Gregg--on a bioterrorism bill that would allow us first to develop a better federal, state and local infrastructure; secondly, that would allow us to work with hospitals all over the country, ensuring that we have rapid response to whatever circumstances may present themselves; and third, to whatever extent that is possible, to stockpile antibiotics. We want to be able to do that as well.

So bioterrorism will also be one of those key issues that we hope to finish before the end of this session of Congress, not only authorization, but some additional funding. So terrorism is going to continue to be a very dominant part of our legislative agenda.

In addition to that, of course, we have the stimulus package. The House is voting on it today. And I think that Secretary O'Neill was right when he called it ``show business.'' It's not as much stimulus as it is just going back to the same approaches that our Republican colleagues have used for a long time to address issues of import to them. This is a $160 billion bill--well in excess, as you know, of what the president had laid out as a target amount for economic stimulus.

As you all have heard us talk about on several occasions, there really are three criteria. The first is that it really has to be stimulative; second is that it should be immediate; and third, that it ought to be cost-effective and cost-contained. In my view, this bill violates all three of those. It's not that stimulative. It's not that immediate. And it certainly isn't cost-contained.

I think Senator Baucus and the Finance Committee Democrats have done a very good job of giving us a good starting point. I'll be working with Senator Byrd on the spending side. But Senator Baucus' bill is stimulative. It is immediate. And it is cost-contained. In fact, over 10 years it's only a $40 billion cost to the Treasury--exactly the kind of approach that I think we ought to be employing.

So we hope to take it and work with the appropriators and come up with a package that in the not-too-distant future can be taken to the Senate floor.

All in all, it's been I think a good week. We're making progress on the buildings. We're making progress on appropriations bills. We're making progress on terrorism and the counterterrorism legislation. And I think we're making some progress now on economic stimulus.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) inside a $60 billion to $75 billion range?

DASCHLE: Well, we're still in the deliberative stages. We haven't come to any conclusions yet about how we're going to do this, and I'll be meeting again with Senator Byrd this afternoon to talk about it. But we are going to produce a bill that meets the criteria that I've just outlined again, and I'm confident that we can do that.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). In your meeting with the president, did you talk about the economic stimulus bill?

DASCHLE: We did.

QUESTION: I mean, he's (OFF-MIKE) the Republican Congress.

DASCHLE: That's correct.

QUESTION: What did you talk about?

DASCHLE: Well, we've made it a practice not to reveal conversations at the meeting, but I think it is fair to say that he wants a stimulus bill that generally meets the criteria that we all agreed to. I support that. I'm appreciative of his adherence to those principles and I hope we can come up with a bill on a bipartisan basis that allows us to do that.

QUESTION: What sort of time frame do you see going through the Senate and then the conference committee and the end game?

DASCHLE: Well, we still are, maybe optimistically and maybe too optimistically, still hopeful that we can complete all of our work before Thanksgiving.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) on the stimulus.

DASCHLE: That's what I mean.

QUESTION: Senator, can I ask you some questions about safety? When was it and what caused you all to decide that the Dirksen Building and the Russell Building should not--that we couldn't go in there? I mean, there was free access to those buildings. They first said that there was nothing in the ventilation system. It was OK to go by the mail room. Then you decided that it wasn't. Why was that? And what led officials to decide to close those buildings?

DASCHLE: Well, the advice we got from all of those officials to whom we talked was that because of the tunnels and the free flow of traffic among the buildings, that in order to be sure that we could determine what contamination may have been taken from one building to another that it was important to shut down to allow the complete sweep to take place, and that's what we did.

QUESTION: So you didn't actually find anything...

DASCHLE: No. None whatsoever.

QUESTION: May I also ask you about the staffers that were in your office where the anthrax was discovered? What was done with those people? We were first told they were quarantined. Were they kept in that area of the building? Were they taken someplace else?

DASCHLE: Well, originally they were kept in the building so that they could be given additional clothing. Once they were given additional clothing, they left in order so as not to take the clothing outside of the area, or at least outside of a container. So they did stay in the office for a brief period of time. They were tested immediately, and I think without exception were given antibiotics immediately.

QUESTION: Well on reflection, was that a good thing to do--to keep them in what would be the most dangerous part of the building?

DASCHLE: Well, I'm not going to second-guess these people. What we do want to do is stop the spread. We knew that each individual could be a carrier under the circumstances. So we thought the more we could contain the area and stop the spread of the contamination, that it was in our interest to try to do so.

QUESTION: But you also turned off the air conditioning in that area of the building.

DASCHLE: We did.

QUESTION: So didn't that suggest that whatever was there, that they would be even more susceptible to it?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't know.

QUESTION: I mean, the air obviously was not circulating.

DASCHLE: Well, to my knowledge, there was no contamination on the first floor of my office. It's all on the second floor. So they were all moved to the first floor where even today, as I understand it, no contamination has been found.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, are you happy now, are you satisfied with the way that all of the agencies of government are handling this spread of anthrax? And that would be the Post Office, which is now telling people at home, be cautious when you open your mail, whatever that means, and the CDC, and all of the other agencies of government which seem to be giving different advice every day.

DASCHLE: Well, I think we have to recognize that this has never happened before. And because it has never happened before, we have to be as prudent as we can with regards to advice and we have to recognize that there will be conflicting approaches to how to handle this the most effectively. And we also have to recognize that the circumstances are different in each one of these cases. They were different in my office from what they were in the Postal Service. And I think that the different approaches reflect those different circumstances.


QUESTION: Senator Daschle, on the bombing in Afghanistan, sir, Senator Biden gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday in which he said he would hope that we end the the bombing campaign sooner rather than later or we run the risk of (OFF-MIKE) high-tech bully. Do you share that view?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't know that I've come to any conclusions about how long the bombing should take place. I think the president is doing exactly the right thing. I support his effort.

I think it is important for us to do as much as possible from the air to avoid casualties on the ground. I think he is doing that for good reason.

I think we, over a period of time, will be able to determine and calculate the degree to which this has been effective, but it's far too early to come to any conclusions.


DASCHLE: I actually haven't heard the comments. I've always made it a practice not to comment about comments unless I've heard them directly.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, with the time constraints you already have, when do you expect to get to an energy bill? When do you expect to bring it to the floor? And also, is ANWR deader than ever now that the point-man on energy is really a lame duck?

DASCHLE: Well, keep in mind Senator Mikulski (sic) is going to run for governor, as I understand it, in this coming election, but his seat doesn't come up for reelection until 2004.

QUESTION: Murkowski.

DASCHLE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You said Mikulski.

DASCHLE: Did I say Mikulski?


DASCHLE: Murkowski. Those Polish names are tough for me. I'm sorry.

So Senator Murkowski--well actually Mikulski is up in 2004, too, come to think of it. But she's not running for governor, as best I know.

QUESTION: And she feels differently about ANWR.

DASCHLE: And feels differently about ANWR, too. Thank you.

So what's your question again?


QUESTION: I don't remember. When do you expect to bring an energy bill to the floor? And also, because Murkowski is running for governor, does that take away the impetus there (OFF-MIKE) ANWR (OFF-MIKE).

DASCHLE: We could just give some of these questions a letter title and you could just ask A, and then I'll just know it's energy and I'll give the same answer as I did yesterday.

The answer to question A is that I don't know when we'll take up energy, because we really don't know how long we're going to be in session. If we're in session long enough to accommodate issues that take us beyond the immediate needs to address all of the problems that we're facing as a result of the terrorist attacks and the appropriations bills, then certainly energy is a high priority for all of us. But if we complete our work and it appears that we can leave before Thanksgiving not having done it, we're going to leave. And we'll take it up when we come back next year.

QUESTION: And Murkowski leaving, does that make a difference?

DASCHLE: It doesn't make any. He's a strong advocate for his position. I respect him. I respect his position. And I don't think it has any effect on how the bill will be treated or what priority it has.

QUESTION: Senator, getting back to this issue of the clothing your staffers had on that day. I was under the impression last week that you said that some people may have been exposed because of hugs that were exchanged after this emotional time when staffers were quarantined in your office. I was also under the impression that staffers wore that clothing home and were instructed to clean it. Is that now--are you hearing otherwise?

DASCHLE: Well, some weren't able to change clothes. And you know, as I understand it now, the hugging really doesn't transfer spores. You can do that all day long and stay spore free.


So being the hugger I am, I'm glad to hear that.


DASCHLE: On the other hand, you can transfer with a handshake. No, I don't want to get rumors started.

You know, I think in some cases some people were able to change. But the clothing itself was not, as we learned, and a lot of this we're learning in hindsight, was not a matter of major consequence.

QUESTION: Senator, how concerned are you that there may be lingering bad feelings between the House and the Senate in the working relationship (OFF-MIKE).

DASCHLE: I'm not concerned. We had a good breakfast yesterday. And you know, the four of us have to work together. We are working together. I thought it was a very cordial breakfast. We talked about the work that we had in front of us this week. And I don't think it could have been any more cordial than it was.

QUESTION: Senator, the foreign operations bill will bring by my calculations the total contribution from the Senate to the Global AIDS Fund to $190 million. The president asked for $200 million. I wonder if there will be any other opportunities before the end of the session to bring it up at least to the president's request? Or if there is an explanation as to why the Senate is providing monies underneath what the president asked for?

DASCHLE: Well, I would hope there would be other opportunities. I think there is a lot of support, perhaps not as much as we'd like, but there is a good deal of support for funding the Global AIDS Fund, as it should be. The president is right to request more and I hope we can accommodate that request.

QUESTION: Senator, is there an additional piece of mail to you that is becoming a concern to investigators? And also, having gone through this last couple of weeks, I wonder what lessons have we learned about how to respond to a similar attack?

DASCHLE: Well, we haven't been contacted by anybody in the Postal Service, and so I know of no second letter. I was told that the media reported the presence of another letter, but no one has contacted us.

With regard to precautionary matters, I think number one, clearly, everybody is a lot more alert. Number two, I think we're going to have a far more effective detection system in place, and I'm not sure I can define it at this point because it's still a work in progress. And three, I think that our response to this situation is one that while awfully good, we can even do better.

And I think we're going to continue to try to do better. But overall, I would give the congressional response to the situation high marks. I think our sergeant-at-arms, our secretary of the Senate, all of the officials at the federal level have responded, have done an outstanding job. And I think the evidence of that, of course, is that not one of our people have been infected or have gotten sick, and I think that's something that is a great source of gratification for me and satisfaction for me.

QUESTION: Senator, was there any reason why the Senate couldn't pass the terrorism bill today? Are there people with holds on (OFF-MIKE).

DASCHLE: No. It is possible. We are hopeful that we can finish the foreign ops bill, and whenever we finish that foreign ops bill, we'll take up the counterterrorism bill. It could be done today. I don't know. I'm quite sure there are no holds.

QUESTION: Senator, you mentioned the possibility that the mail may need to be burned, or at least some of the mail may need to be burned (OFF-MIKE) recommendation made recently on that. Do you know what the latest on that is? Is there any concern that if you did burn the mail, you'd also potentially be burning maybe another letter which would be more evidence. Is there an effort to kind of comb through the mail to see if there is something else?

DASCHLE: I may have been, as I have on occasion in this whole thing, been inaccurate and premature in my comments. As I understand it, that was an option that some of the officials had recommended we consider. I don't know that the option will be followed. My guess is that to whatever extent you can salvage the mail and ensure public safety, they want to do that. But in some cases, I think they were concerned about dealing with some of these pieces of mail appropriately, and that was an option that--and today I don't know the current status of it. So it's possible, but maybe I can give you more information later.

QUESTION: Do you know where all the mail is accumulating? And do you know how much mail the Congress gets every day? There must be some location where the mail is mounting.

DASCHLE: It is. It's a landfill out there somewhere.


But you know, and I said this yesterday and I really should repeat it because a lot of my colleagues were very concerned about their constituents wondering why they're not getting responses to mail. In South Dakota, we've always had a two-day rule in answering mail, and we clearly are not going to be able to follow that.

But obviously, all of this mail is accumulating and piling up and will be tested, will be screened, will be rectified in whatever way required to ensure that it is safe to handle. But where that is and how much there is is something I can't answer right now.


DASCHLE: Yes. It will be. The decontamination, or the rectification, as they like to use the term, will occur in Dirksen prior to the time we move in, but it's only the mail room, and because it is, they feel they can do it within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The Hart Building may be sealed off. We may have to seal it in a way that will allow us access to the rest of the building. There has been, even as we speak, no additional contamination found outside of that area, and that gives us confidence that we can find a way to access the rest of the building and allow senators to go back to work.


DASCHLE: Well, I don't want to be more specific than that because there may be a lot of ways to seal it off that I'm not qualified to address.


DASCHLE: That's right. Well, gas, and just keep that sealed for whatever length of time until we address the problems there, while we use the rest of the building.


QUESTION: From what you know and what you've learned, have you formed any opinion about the origin of the anthrax?

DASCHLE: We have not. I still have been given no new information other than what you've all seen about the origin. We don't know if it's connected. In fact, the president again reiterated yesterday that they have no information about the connection between the anthrax and the tragic events of September 11. So we're still awaiting some information.

QUESTION: Will Congress be looking at really revamping the U.S. postal system? You now have a situation where people are going to be mailing their bills and having no idea if they're going to get there in time. People are afraid to open their mail. Businesses aren't going to be getting money that's coming to them through the mail. What is the Congress and what is, for example, your party thinking about proposing, if anything, to deal with that problem?

DASCHLE: Well, I think first you have to go through an evaluation of how we're going to address this more quickly and more effectively. Clearly, some things went wrong. And as they went wrong, we have to find a way to rectify them so they don't go wrong again. But in the longer term, we clearly have to come up with ways with which not only to assure public safety, but the efficient handling of all the mail. And I don't think, as we speak, there is an opportunity to come to any conclusion in that regard.

QUESTION: Do you think it's safe for people to get mail now, Senator? (OFF-MIKE)


DASCHLE: You heard the postmaster address that question yesterday, and I think his advice is good. His advice was to be very careful. And I think we have to be very careful.

As Linda's question suggests, we still have the country to be concerned about in terms of the commerce, all of the reliance on the mail today. You can't stop the mail. The mail has to go forward. And we have to provide opportunities to ensure to the maximum degree possible that mail is going to be safe. But people have to be vigilant and alert

QUESTION: Senator, yesterday you mentioned a couple of (OFF-MIKE). I'm wondering, do you know anything about what they're going to do in Dirksen in the next 24 hours?

DASCHLE: I do not. There are a number of different approaches. I think they may have decided on one, but I'm not the right authority. I'll leave that to the experts to talk about.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, have you heard of any possible further contamination in the House buildings? And in general, at the end of the year, cooperation between the Senate and the House is needed in order to finish up your business. So I wonder to what extent the chaos in the office buildings in the House and the chaos in the office buildings in the Senate is slowing down your bicameral work?

DASCHLE: Well, it's certainly having an effect. You know, I don't know that we can calculate how much it has slowed things down yet. But I think we can make it up. I'm not too worried about that.

Keep in mind, the House had sort of a delay, in part, because they didn't experience any problem there for several days after we experienced them. So it's natural that we would be a little farther ahead in our process in dealing with them, with all of the array of problems, than they are.

But they will addressing them just as thoroughly and just as expeditiously as they Senate is. I think ultimately we'll be able to address the legislative challenges we face, and I don't think it will slow us down that much.


DASCHLE: No. I'm quite sure there are no new instances.

QUESTION: Do you have any schedule on when they're going to reopen?

DASCHLE: No. I can't speak for the House.


DASCHLE: Well, we would probably bring it up under a unanimous consent agreement. This is just a bill, it's not a conference report. And my hope is that we can bring it up under parliamentary conditions that would allow expeditious consideration, but we'll work through that throughout the day.


DASCHLE: Oh, of course, we'll have some debate, and we'll decide how much as time goes on and see what the requests are.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). Regarding the two postal workers who have died, in the beginning we were told that the interagency federal task force responding to this letter was under the control of the (OFF-MIKE) office, that is it was under your (OFF-MIKE).

DASCHLE: Well, I think these are two instances that are yet to be shown to be related. I don't know that we know that they were related. We have to assume that perhaps they were, but we're dealing with the--the Postal Service is an entity separate and apart, of course, from the United States Senate. I think the biggest single difference, of course, is that we had an incident where you had anthrax spill out of an envelope. We had no indication that there was any of that within the Postal Service itself.

Having said that, clearly, as I said, when two people died, that is an acknowledgment at the very least that something went wrong--something about the detection system, something about the response to the detection of anthrax.

So clearly, we've got to address the deficiencies that exist in that whole system. And I think we've got to do that as comprehensively as possible. If it happened in the Postal Service, it could happen elsewhere, and we have to be concerned about it.

QUESTION: Senator, (OFF-MIKE) to you is a fair price for the government to pay for ciprofloxacin as they are negotiating with drug companies on mass purchases of that drug?

DASCHLE: I have no idea. I applaud the secretary for his efforts to reduce price. I don't think that any company ought to benefit substantially from the tragedy this country has experienced. And I don't know. Obviously, they deserve a profit, but if they're making profits in excess of what they should, that ought to be taken into account when they determine their price.


DASCHLE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do you think the price should be under a dollar for a pill?

DASCHLE: I don't know enough about the drug to know.

QUESTION: Would you just clarify, when do you expect Hart cleanup to begin and how long do you expect it to take?

DASCHLE: We can't answer either question at this point. Because of our concern for the best information about the environmental sweep, the environmental sweep is still under way in Hart. And we aren't yet sure when that sweep will be completed. Spores, as you know, are microscopic, and that's a large building, and we wanted to ensure that we could be confident about Russell. We are now confident about Russell. We wanted to cleanup Dirksen. And that will be done. Hart is the biggest project of the three buildings, and I'm confident that in the not-too-distant future we'll be able to allow even greater access than we've offered today.

Thanks everybody.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company