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Text: Rep. Hastert on Capitol Hill Anthrax Exposures

eMediaMillWorks
eMediaMillWorks
Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001

Following is the text of remarks by Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) on Capitol Hill staffers who have tested positive for exposure to anthrax.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

HASTERT: ... work today and then suspend so that they can go through and do the environmental screens that they need.

We, too, in the House we don't know what's come through our postage machines. We aren't sure what has been distributed. We've held the mail in a member's offices. But we think it's prudent also to take some time and go through and make sure that this building and our office buildings are environmentally safe.

So we're going to allow members to leave after today's business is done. And we will be screening the buildings this weekend through Monday. We think this is the prudent thing to do. We'll be back to work on Tuesday. It's our intent to move and move the tax bill and other legislation and certainly the antiterrorism bill that--we hope--that we'll have preconference and conference by that time. And we'll take some of this time to get that work done in other ways.

QUESTION: What about the members safety, Mr. Speaker, (inaudible) going to be looking in these offices? Are people at risk and do they need to be tested?

HASTERT: Well, you know, if there is a risk, if there is a spore found, if there's some type of reaction, members are tested, as well as workers here--people who staff the offices and the committees. There are 1,400--almost 1,400 people tested yesterday over in the Senate. We're doing it in a very methodical and prudent way. But that's not the risk right now. We just want to make sure, just like they did with the buildings in Florida and the ABC and NBC office buildings, they went through to make sure that those offices were secure and safe.

And we think we owe it to the people who work here, we think we owe it to our staffs that come from all across this country to serve the people of this nation, and quite frankly, we owe it to the members of this country, the people who've elected us, to make sure that his Congress can sustain and be here and continue its work. And we just need to make sure that our environment at this time is safe.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, there's a rumor this morning that your office in particular has received, if not an actual packet with substance, but suspicious package. Can you tell us anything about it?

HASTERT: I really don't know anything about it. It just happened just a few minutes ago, as you well know. My third administration office is under quarantine at this time. I really don't know any more about it than that.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, if there is a enough of a threat for you to send Congress home early, why not do it right this second?

HASTERT: Because we want to make sure that the buildings are environmentally safe. They're going to be sweeping Senate buildings today, and we just will do a routine, methodical sweeping of buildings. There is no evidence that there is, but because of packages that went through the Senate machines, they did find spore on them.

They did find spore that was going through the ventilation system in the Senate. And to give people peace of mind, plus the safety of members and staff, so that we can continue to do our work in Congress, we think it's precautionary and prudent to make sure that everything is OK on the House side as well.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, because of the way things are playing out, has there been any serious consideration to expediting all of the end-of-the-year business, we have all of the appropriations bills, everything else that's hanging out there to just close up shop and call it a...

HASTERT: It's not our intent to close up shop. We're going to be here and do the work. You know, one of the things terrorists would love to do is take away our freedom and our liberty. Part of that freedom and liberty is having elected people, elected by the people, to do the work in this nation. And we're not going to relinquish that duty.

QUESTION: After you complete your work today, and before you come back on Tuesday, are the buildings completely closed off to staff and visitors to the buildings?

HASTERT: We're advising that all staff go home. If there is nobody there, we would expect that visitors would be not allowed either.

QUESTION: How late are you going to be in session today, and have you coordinated this with the Senate?

HASTERT: Well, we're coordinating on our side, but we will finish our business. We have a couple of conference reports to do. We have a CR to do, we have some legislation to pass. And we'll get that, and when we're done, we'll be done. But we haven't set any definite time.

QUESTION: Is your office under quarantine, is that in the Capitol (inaudible)?

HASTERT: My understanding is, it's under my third floor office. I haven't been there, I haven't talked to people...

UNKNOWN: Fourth floor.

HASTERT: Fourth floor office, excuse me.

QUESTION: Does this all apply to all of the congressional field offices or just the Capitol premises itself?

HASTERT: Just on the Capitol campus.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, you and other members have taken pride in the Capitol being open to people to come and see the business of the country being executed. The Capitol is now virtually closed down. You can't get mail from constituents, be responsive to constituents needs as well as you would like. How can Congress function if you can't be as responsive and open as possible?

HASTERT: We'll be responsive and open. Of course, you know, we used mail in the 1800s, and the 1900s. And now, we're in the year 2001, we have e-mail and a lot of different ways that people could communicate with us.

But we will make sure that the mail that we have is safe. And we'll have the testing of that mail coming through as soon as we can expedite that. And we intend as soon as possible to do the traditional mail service as well.

But right now, we're just taking a precaution and making sure, because we know that mail has come into the Capitol that is tainted, and the possibility of more of it coming in, we want to make sure that everybody is absolutely safe so we can continue to do the country's business.

QUESTION: Did you say, sir, that it would be closed until Monday? You said there would be some checking through until Monday. So will everything be closed until then?

HASTERT: It is our understanding and intent that we will have our offices open for environmental screening through Monday.

QUESTION: You said through Monday?

HASTERT: Yes.

QUESTION: So when do you come back to the building?

HASTERT: Tuesday, that's the next day.

QUESTION: Could you talk about how exactly the offices are to be cleaned? What is the procedure, how does it work?

HASTERT: As a matter of fact, I can't tell you that exactly because I don't know.

QUESTION: (inaudible), process.

HASTERT: It's a technical process.

QUESTION: So that's checking for anthrax and what else?

HASTERT: Right now, we're checking for anthrax.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, (inaudible) decision?

HASTERT: The decision that triggered it was the discussion this morning at the White House with members of the Senate leadership and the Senate leadership of the House, 29 cases being discovered in Senator Daschle's office and the discovery that this stuff has gotten into the ventilation system, is going through the tunnels, it was in the system of those buildings, and also, found in the mail room in the Senate were packages that moved through.

So to make sure that we protect people's safety, we thought it was also prudent to do a complete environmental sweep and make sure that we can resume business on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, do you know if all the people that tested positive are in Daschle's office? Or is there any other office?

HASTERT: I know a couple of them are Capitol police. I can't comment beyond that.

Thank you

© 2001 The Washington Post Company