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Senate to Continue People's Business Despite Anthrax Scare

Aired October 17, 2001 - 14:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: This afternoon, for us, started when we received word that anthrax spores had been found in the office, the New York City's office, of New York governor George Pataki in the security area. CNN's Jason Carroll has been working that part of what is a now-very complicated and broad story -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, I can tell you that Governor George Pataki ended his press conference a short while ago. And we did get a few more details about exactly what happened at his midtown office here in Manhattan.

Apparently his secretary had received a letter some time ago. She thought it was suspicious so she turned it over to the state police security detail. On Monday night as a precaution, the governor's office ordered an environmental check of their offices there and one test, I want to point out, one test indicated the probability of anthrax in one of their offices. That office located in the secure area used by the state police security detail.

No anthrax was found in the governor's office. No anthrax was found in the secretary's office and, in fact, during his press conference, Pataki said that he doesn't believe that the source of the anthrax came from the envelope in question. He also told -- told the reporters during this press conference that this is a war of terror and a war of nerves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: These are evil people who we are going to drive back to their caves where they belong, and in the process we are going to continue to live our lives as New Yorkers, maybe we will be a little more diligent, and a little more cautious in what we do, but we are not going to overreact, and we are going to male sure that not only do we get through this particular incident, but that we as New Yorkers and as Americans continue to live our daily lives as we have a right to live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: There are about 80 people who work in the governor's office and they have already begun taking the antibiotic Cipro. The governor says that he is taking it as well again only as a precaution. Their offices will remain closed until Monday while an investigation and an environmental check is completed -- Aaron. BROWN: Jason, thank you. We will assume the governor was speaking metaphorically when he said "drive them back to their caves." We know of no connection between Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the whole anthrax scare that is playing out. And on the subject of the anthrax scare, back to Capitol Hill. Jonathan Karl has been talking on the Senate side here.

There is -- at the very least, Jon, a rhetorical difference, a semanitcal difference in the way the House and the Senate are talking about this, let alone dealing with it. What are you hearing now from Senator Daschle?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps something more. I had a remarkable conversation with a spokesperson for Senator Daschle taking place as Gephardt and Speaker Hastert were finishing their press conference on the House side, saying that virtually everything that they said about what's happening in the Senate was, in this spokesperson's words, wrong. Everything was virtually wrong.

So three points that need to be corrected in the spokesperson's mind: One, Gephardt said that there were 29 people initially tested positive. The actual number is 31. Secondly, Speaker Hastert spoke at length about a flume that went out when this envelope containing the anthrax was opened. Daschle's people saying that they have no such evidence. In fact, they have been walking away from what Daschle himself had been saying yesterday about this being a very potent and virulent form of anthrax. They are now saying it is more of a garden variety anthrax -- very pure, certainly no evidence that it has been weaponized.

Finally, the speaker said that the House -- the Senate would be in session tomorrow, but only in a pro forma session. Pro forma sessions basically means you leave the lights on for the sake of saying you are in session but nothing happens. But Daschle himself has said that they will be in session tomorrow, not only in a pro- forma way, but no, actually doing business and actually having votes. Here's what Daschle said a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: We will not let this stop the work of the Senate. There will be a vote this afternoon. We will be in session and have a vote, or votes tomorrow and I am absolutely determined to ensure that the Senate continues to do its work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: What's interesting, Aaron, is that the four top leaders, House and Senate, Lott, Daschle, Gephardt, Hastert, all had breakfast with the president this morning and all discussed this. Now you are seeing a little bit of tension between the house and the Senate, much of it driven by the different approach that they have taken.

Of course, the Senate insisting that they are going to stay in session. They are not going to let one envelope full of anthrax stop the people's business in the Senate, and the House saying they are taking a precautionary step of closing down for a few days so the place can be thoroughly swept for further signs of anthrax.

Now, some of this also, as you alluded to, Aaron, may be rhetorical, because although the Senate is going to be in session and they are going to try to have a vote, at least one vote tomorrow, the Senate office buildings will be closed. They are closing down the Senate office buildings, so they can thoroughly sweep them for signs of anthrax. And if some further details on that we have been talking about how they only found signs of anthrax in Daschle's office and in the mail room.

One important point about that is that the mail room is actually in a separate building. It is actually in the Dirkson Senate Office Building, whereas Daschle's office is in the Hart Senate Office Building. So you do have two buildings that have had signs of anthrax.

Now, finally, one other thing I want to clarify: There was the question of whether or not they found any anthrax spores in the ventilation system. And you heard earlier reports of Hastert saying that he said there were signs of anthrax spores in the Senate ventilation system. He now saying that he was misquoted on that, and Daschle saying at that news conference that they have no signs that there was any anthrax spores in the ventilation system.

But adding to the confusion just a few minutes ago, Senator Durban went to the floor of the Senate and said they found a single spore in the Senate ventilation system. So a lot of confusion around here. But the bottom line in the Senate is they're trying to turn the temperature down. They are saying they are going to be in session, not just pro forma session, but a real-live session with votes, with all senators present even as they are closing down those office buildings.

BROWN: Thank you. We will revisit all of this as we go along. The Pentagon briefing is about to begin. Let's listen to that and see where they are going and we will come back to this.

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