By Marie Beaudette and Melanie Starkey
WASHINGTON – Congressional offices were fully staffed Wednesday but an empty silence hung over the Capitol, as official Washington struggled with the business of running the nation a day after one of the worst terrorist attacks in history.
As staffers began sorting through the political and emotional rubble of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the mood on the Hill was somber but defiant, with promises of retaliation and expressions of anger toward those responsible for Tuesday’s attacks.
“People are being very quiet,” said Betsy Bossart, an administrative assistant for Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville. “There’s no concern about security or fear. I think it’s much more about trying to help people.”
While senators and House members were quick to denounce Tuesday’s tragic events, those behind the scenes had trouble just keeping focused throughout the day.
“It’s almost like people are sleepwalking,” said Skip Gibson, a legislative assistant for Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium. “The city is like a ghost town.”
Gibson said that by being in the office, staffers were demonstrating their sense of duty and dedication to their jobs.
But there was still an air of concern and nervousness on the Hill. The buzz of TV newscasts drifted from House and Senate offices into the largely empty halls, and breaking news alerts brought people crowding around all available televisions.
“Obviously everyone’s paying close attention to what’s happening,” said Ehrlich’s press secretary Henry Fawell. Outside the Capitol, people walked slowly through the street, their minds apparently occupied with the numbers of the killed and injured.
Jennifer Thomas, who works for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said people were grim in Washington.
“I think a lot of people went to work today just to prrove a point,” she said while eating lunch in a park across from the Longworth House Office Building.
Security on the Hill was tight Wednesday, with officers stationed at every intersection for blocks out from the Capitol.
But some working on the Hill believe it is only a matter of time before security goes lax again and America’s capital is vulnerable. Construction workers John Whitmore of Wheaton and Paul Thurman of Prince Frederick said the nation will eventually let down its guard.
“I guarantee it’s going to happen again in a month,” Whitmore said. “Security can’t watch everyone. Police are good, but not that good.
“If some idiot wants to blow up something, they will do it,” he said.
A Senate staffer said she would not be surprised if another attack happened in the not-too-distant future.
“I don’t know if it’ll be the same thing, but it’s going to happen again,” said the staffer, who would not give her name.