Rarely willing to acknowledge second billing to anything, Washington's highest government officials and agencies came to a virtual halt Tuesday, yielding to the Simpson verdict announcement.
From the White House to Congress to federal agencies, briefings, hearings and news conferences on national policies that had been scheduled for 1 p.m. local time were either postponed or canceled. Working lunches--where much of Washington's real business is transacted--stalled as diners tilted toward television sets.
Veteran Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), as self-serious as senior legislators come, called off the much-anticipated announcement of his reelection plans. "Given the developments of the O.J. Simpson case, Sen. Nunn has been persuaded by friends and members of the Georgia media not to hold a press conference today," a spokeswoman said, adding that the announcement would have to wait until the Simpson news dies down--possibly next week.
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), a GOP presidential contender, conceded that "we all know what the lead on the news will be tonight," as he began a news conference before the verdict was read.
At the White House, which is typically a beehive of activity, work came to a near-standstill as presidential aides scrambled to find television sets.
About a mile up Pennsylvania Avenue in a Capitol Hill suite, the staff of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) gathered around an enormous conference table, spread picnic-style with takeout lunches, to watch the results on CNN.
Throughout the trial, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno had gone out of her way to make it clear that, as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, she was not scrutinizing the televised proceedings. She often said she had more important things to do.
But she abruptly postponed a scheduled 1 p.m. appointment. "It is reasonable to assume that it was moved because [the] situation was fraught with competitive difficulties," said chief Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern.
Meanwhile at the Supreme Court, the justices returned from their lunch break at 1 p.m. to hear scheduled arguments in a drug forfeiture case.
About 1:15 p.m. Eastern time, after the nation heard the jury declare Simpson not guilty, young clerks walked to the bench and handed notes to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg at one end and Justice Stephen Breyer at the other. The papers were passed to the middle. In the secretive fashion of the court, officials refused to divulge the contents of the notes.