For the second time in 28 months, lawmakers in the nation's capital
played the role of "canaries in the coal mine," Rep. Adam Schiff
(D--Glendale) said. On Tuesday, members of Congress were dealing with
effects that included the closure of Senate offices.
Officials found a white powder Monday that was identified as
ricin, a deadly poison, in the mailroom of Sen. Bill Frist
(R--Tenn.). Sixteen members of Frist's staff were exposed, although
none have reported any illness. Senate offices might remain closed
for the rest of the week.
Schiff said he has offered his office to California's senators,
Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, although neither has
taken him up on it.
For now, lawmakers and their staffs were trying to calm some
"I remember when the anthrax attack took place [in 2001], I went
to a briefing of the House physician, a briefing for members of
congress," Schiff said. "He said that we don't know that much about
how it works and 'You all are the proverbial canaries in the coal
mine.' This was funny, in a grim sort of way. I relayed it to staff,
and they thought it was much more grim than funny.
"Certainly since Sept. 11, this comes with the job now, and we
just need to be vigilant, and go about work and not be overly
concerned about it."
All mail has been cut off to the Senate and the House of
Representatives. Schiff and Jo Maney, spokeswoman for Rep. David
Dreier (R-La Crescenta), urged constituents to contact them via
phone, e-mail or district offices.
"We work in a heightened state of security every day," Maney said.
"It's distressing, but we're still functioning, which is good."