Rep. Mike Pence: National security
Congressman Mike Pence has been on Capitol Hill, representing Indiana's second Congressional district, since 2000. He is the only freshman member of Congress to chair a subcommittee this year. On October 27, investigators found trace amounts of anthrax in his Washington office, which remains closed.
CNN: Welcome to CNN.com Congressman Pence. Thank you for being with us today.
MIKE PENCE: I'd be delighted to say hello. I'm a frequent visitor to CNN.com, and it's an honor to make my second appearance on your Web site.
CNN: Congressman, what do you make of Attorney General Ashcroft's terrorism warnings like the one issued last night? Why are they issued and how are people supposed to respond?
PENCE: I think the reason why the Justice Department has issued the general warning is because they have been presented with clear and convincing evidence of an imminent terrorist threat against targets either within the U.S. or of significance to the U.S. abroad. This is simply the most effective way to inform thousands of law enforcement agencies and millions of citizens to be vigilant in the immediate future.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mike, has everyone been tested in your office due to this scare?
PENCE: Well, thank you for asking about my staff. We have been overwhelmed by the prayerful concern of thousands of Americans about the news that our office tested positive for trace amounts of the anthrax baccillus. As to our staff, only one member of our Congressional staff has been tested, and that individual was evidencing severe flu symptoms seven days ago, which I am happy to report have abated, and his health has returned. We are confident that no family members, no staff, and no one in the general public who were in any way associated with our office after October 12th are showing symptoms of an active anthrax infection at this time.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How concerned should we be about civilian mail?
PENCE: I think the threat of exposure to ordinary Americans for anthrax conveyed through the mail is virtually zero. That being said, as I've told the people I serve back in Indiana, we should open our mail with common sense, but the confidence that everything that can be done to ensure the safety of postal workers and recipients is being done.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: There were discussions this morning on the disparity in treatment between the Congressional staff and the Brentwood mail workers. Fingers were pointing to race issues. Do you believe this was an issue, or do you believe it simply an oversight in the original threat assessment?
PENCE: I don't think there's anyone on Capitol Hill who thinks anything other than "we blew it" with regards to ensuring the safety of postal workers. In the wake of the Daschle letter, neither the health officials nor the leadership in Congress ever thought that this material could exude from the sealed envelope. We have learned that we are dealing with a highly milled size of spore that is able to exude from sealed envelopes, and now efforts are being made to protect our postal workers who are without a doubt on the front lines of this mail-borne terrorist attack. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones in the postal service, and I completely understand the frustration expressed in the remarks that you reference.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What steps can be taken by the Congress to assure the country that "business as usual" will go forward as we are dealing with this string of anthrax contaminations?
PENCE: I think the Congress can and should lead by example. This afternoon we will begin another busy legislative week, where we will wrestle with issues ranging from airport security to trade. It is my hope that the Congress's headbanging example of democracy will be a great encouragement to all Americans to stay at work and to stay on the job wherever their job takes them in the work force or at home.
CNN: Is any kind of emergency plan in the works that would allow the U.S. government to continue to function if these bioterrorism attacks continue, spread or worsen?
PENCE: Yes. It is my understanding that not only are there additional security measures being imposed here in Washington, D.C. even as we speak, but also against the unlikely circumstance that we would no longer be able to conduct the national government on Capitol Hill, I'm informed there is an alternative location being developed on a contingency basis. Be assured that the continuity of government will go forward, regardless of the circumstances we face here at home in the war on terrorism.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Congressman, since we are all at risk, why does the National Security plan not include a nationwide neighborhood watch? Maybe Americans could be more vigilant and root out the Atta's left in America.
PENCE: What a wonderful idea! I will convey that concept to members of the Homeland Security Committee and would urge anyone listening in today to not wait for government encouragement in this regard. I can't think of a better way for average Americans across the country to participate in our domestic security, than to see to their own neighborhoods and street corners, with this time-honored tradition of neighborhood watches.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Congressman, what action will Congress take to assure a more secure border and a more scrutinous attitude toward those here on student visas?
PENCE: I believe that with strong leadership from the president, the Congress will be taking action in the very near term to greatly restrict access to student visas, and also to greatly enhance our general border security. This is without a doubt an essential element of Homeland Security going forward, and will be coming up very soon on Capitol Hill.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How soon do you think the assault on "sunset" legislation will begin after the crises have passed?
PENCE: As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I fought tenaciously for provisions that would sunset (expire) additional police powers within three to five years. I believe that the four-year compromise that is now the law was appropriate, and I do not anticipate any effort in Congress to dismantle those sunset provisions in four years. And I would vigorously oppose any effort to do so, believing that in times of national emergencies, we must be vigilant about any permanent erosion of our liberties.
CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today?
PENCE: Thank you again to CNN.com for the honor of being with you today. I also want to say from my heart a thanks to all of those who have offered earnest prayers on behalf of my wife, our children, and our staff. We truly believe that we had God's protection in these circumstances, and hope that this latest failed attack is a source of great encouragement to all of you, as it has been to us.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Rep. Mike Pence.
Rep. Mike Pence joined CNN.com via telephone from Washington, DC. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Tuesday, October 30, 2001.
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