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Dick Gephardt Address Anthrax Scare

Aired October 18, 2001 - 15:17   ET


BOBBIE BATTISTA, "TALKBACK LIVE": Dick Gephardt is speaking up on Capitol Hill. We want to keep you up to date on that.

So let's listen in.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: They're doing a good job, a thorough job. They're analyzing all the buildings and trying to determine that the buildings are safe. It's going to take a matter of days. Their hope is to try to get this finished before Tuesday morning, when we hope that we can get clearance to send people back into the buildings.

We don't have the results yet, so we can't give you any indication of exactly where we are. But I am confident. as I was yesterday, and as I think the speaker was, that we made the right decision. And we got the buildings cleared so that we could get the experts in them, to do an analysis to find out where we are.

We know we've got a hot zone in the Hart Building, probably in the Dirksen Building. The remaining question is, are there hot zones in other areas of other buildings? That's what we're going to try to figure out.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, Robert Gibbs, who is overseeing the environmental sweep here, said in a news conference a few minutes ago -- he was asked why did the House close down? He said, "Good question, I don't have an answer for that." In other words, he didn't think you guys should have shut down.

Do you stand by your decision to do that, or in retrospect, looking at all the analysis now, would it have been better to say, keep working?

GEPHARDT: No. I think it was the right decision.

Again, none of us knows what is in these building. There was a lot of information flying around. Some of it was probably right. Some of it was probably wrong.

Look, I think what we did here was what anyone should do anywhere in the country, where you meet this kind of an attack. You have to remember, you had 31 people who were exposed to anthrax -- probably the highest number that we have had anywhere in the country in 100 years. There were a lot of facts that were being asserted by different people at different times during yesterday.

And we thought, in meeting with our counterparts in the Senate, that the best thing to do was to get people out of the buildings. We have a responsibility to keep people out of harm's way. We also have a responsibility to prevent further attacks.

People have asked me all day, well, what message does this send to the terrorists? Well, what message would it send to terrorists if we stupidly put people back into harm's way to be infected by anthrax? That hardly, to me, is an intelligent response. So we're trying to do the right thing, and I think we did right thing. And I'm confident that, with the expertise that's now working on the problem, we're going to get the answers in due time.

QUESTION: Well, based on that comment, are you suggesting the Senate is indeed doing that, that they're putting people back in harms way?

GEPHARDT: No, the building that was the most obvious to deal with was Hart and Dirksen. The Senate felt they wanted to be there for a while today. They've gone back. They're finished voting. It didn't take long. They did a bill that we did yesterday. That's fine. But the office buildings have been vacated.

The main problem we're focused on is mail pieces that might have anthrax in them, and most of that would go to the office buildings. That's the first place you have to look. But there are worries that there are spores in the Capitol. That has to be looked at and that is being looked at.

And again, I think the course that we have all chosen is the right course. We're going to have the scientific analysis go on and we're going to know where we are.

QUESTION: The Capitol Building, you're talking about?

QUESTION: Why do you say there are worries?

GEPHARDT: Well, people who -- for instance, people who were in Hart who were exposed could have had spores on their clothes, brought them into the Capitol in the period of time that this went on, and it could have brought the spores into the Capitol. These spores, as I understand it, can replicate themselves. They live for 100 years. They are hard to get rid of. And the decontamination process is a long and arduous process.

And so we've got to -- again, we've got to be careful. We've got to do the right things so we prevent further infections, further attacks.

QUESTION: You just came from a very extensive briefing, at least time-wise. What is there new to report? Have there been further exposures? Is there more concern that these spores are regenerating -- what's the latest? GEPHARDT: The latest is, they don't have the results back yet. They have engaged in a lot of sampling in different buildings. They are running those samples to the military authorities who have the best testing facilities. It takes between 24 and 36 hours to get answers, and so they're waiting for those answers to come back. They will come back over the weekend in waves, as the material is sent over there. Then 24 or 36 hours, it comes back.

So hopefully, the schedule is, by Monday night, early Tuesday morning, to have a judgment made on whether or not there is clearance to go back into what buildings.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) new results on the several hundred tests that have been?

GEPHARDT: You mean on people?


GEPHARDT: Those are coming back in a rolling manner as well. I don't know that they have a lot more new results. I think we're still at the positive number of 30 or 31.

QUESTION: Are you staying with touch with Mr. Hastert? Are you talking to him?

GEPHARDT: Yes, I talked to the speaker this morning. We're going to try to have a conference call with our members tomorrow and give them a report with the experts on what is happening so they're right up to date. We will try and keep them advised over the weekend.

QUESTION: There has been lot of controversy that your use of word "weapons-grade" anthrax yesterday -- a lot of people are saying that's simply not the case. Do you have evidence that is the case, and can you can tell us what that evidence is?

GEPHARDT: Well, some of the experts here who have been working on this indicated again today that it was. I'm not a scientist. I'm not an expert. All I can do is understand what I'm told by people who know more about it than I do.

I think this clearly was professionally prepared. It was a sophisticated product. And at least one of experts today again said it was weapons grade. So that's where we are.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Appreciate it.

BATTISTA: House Minority Leader Gephardt telling us that the testing goes on for hot zones on Capitol Hill. A couple of those hot zones, of course, are the Dirksen Building and the Hart Building, which houses the offices of Senator Tom Daschle and Russ Feingold, where both offices were determined to have folks that were exposed to anthrax. That number stays at 31.




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