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Inside Politics

House leadership secured in evacuation scare

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau


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The White House spokesman describes the evacuations.
start quoteIt seemed to me to be the day most like September 11. end quote
-- Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana
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Nancy Pelosi

(CNN) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi were hustled to "undisclosed secure locations" by Capitol Police when parts of the U.S. Capitol were evacuated briefly during a security scare Wednesday.

Parts of the White House and Supreme Court were also evacuated when a small plane violated restricted airspace over Washington. President Bush was not in the White House at the time. (Full story)

Hastert is the third ranking constitutional officer in the government. He is second in line to the presidency behind Vice President Dick Cheney.

Hastert was on the House floor when the alarm was sounded. One hour and 10 minutes later, he returned to the Capitol in a three-SUV convoy. He was greeted by House Sgt at Arms Wilson Livingood.

"I think everyone got out of here in pretty good shape," Hastert told CNN. "I was on the floor of the House like everyone else. [Security officials] said we have to leave, just like everyone else. So we left."

Pelosi returned to the Capitol with her shoes off. She said her security detail moved so fast to evacuate her that they literally "pulled her right out of her shoes." It's "better to be safe than sorry," she said.

Rep. David Dreier, R-California, chairman of the Rules Committee, was just sitting down to a meeting on the third floor of the Capitol with the presidents of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador when the alarms was sounded.

Costa Rico's president was slowed in his race from the building because he is nearly blind, Dreier said.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, was talking to Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the House floor when word spread of an evacuation.

"It seemed to me to be the day most like September 11," he said while waiting for the all clear announcement. "The evacuation was orderly and intense."

Wheelchair-bound ALS patient Sue Earl and her husband Tom were meeting with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, on the fourth floor of the Cannon House Office Building to press for more money to cure the disease. They said they were afraid they wouldn't' be able to get out. They did.

"There were a lot of people in the building but they seemed to recognize they had to get along," Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, said. "The cops shouted for people to hustle and pointed the way they wanted them to go. Able bodied folks assisted older people and others who couldn't move quickly from the building."

When it was all over, DeLay and Pelosi went to the House floor to praise the work of the Capitol Police in evacuating the Capitol in a professional, effective manner. "They showed great courage to stand their post knowing something bad could happen to the building," DeLay said.

A senior administration official said Vice President Dick Cheney was in the West Wing of the White House when the alert sounded, and was moved to a secure location. He returned to the White House after the all-clear was given.

The president was taking a bike ride with a security detail near Waldorf, Maryland, officials said. He returned to the White House more than an hour later.

Senators were evacuated from the Senate floor while in session and tourists were told to leave the Supreme Court building.

Court sources said at least four justices were in the building at the time and were taken to a secure location along with all other staff.

The Pentagon -- where both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were working was not evacuated.


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