WASHINGTON – Dennis Hastert was in his office when it happened. Tom Davis was working in his Northern Virginia district. Byron Dorgan was at a leadership meeting. Martin Frost was in a meeting at the Capitol. Jane Harman was on her way to the Capitol.
These five former members of Congress all remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the Sept. 11,2001,terrorist attacks on the United States.
All had the same initial reaction: Get everyone to a safe location.
“I said,‘We need to get out of this place,’” former speaker Hastert,a Republican from Illinois,said about his decision to shut down the House of Representatives that day.
The representatives discussed their experiences,along with their evaluations of how Congress responded,Tuesday at the National Archives. The event was sponsored by the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and moderated by ABC correspondent Ann Compton.
“It’s a day that has tremendous resonance for me,” Compton said of covering former president George W. Bush. “I was in the room with him,and I saw his chief of staff come whisper in his ear and I saw the look on his face and I knew whatever it was,it was bad.”
Hastert said he had representatives return to work that night to prove that the country would stand together and overcome this tragedy.
At a press conference that night he heard people singing “God Bless America” and said he knew the country would be OK.
Harman,a former Democratic House member from California,was on a committee studying terrorist attacks before 9/11 and said the country was underprepared for the attacks.
“We had more clues than we could use,” she said.
“We never dreamed they would use our own airplanes and use it against us,” he said.
The representatives also discussed the Patriot Act and the effects it has had on the nation.
Hastert said it was necessary to create the assurance people needed to keep the country moving forward. For instance,the government had to ensure companies would still fly planes,construct new buildings and have a presence on Wall Street. To him,the act was the way to do that.
Dorgan,a former Democratic senator from North Dakota,admitted the act isn’t ideal because citizens are giving up freedoms for safety.
“You do the best you can in the most difficult circumstances,” Dorgan said. “All of us are living with the consequences of that day.
The group agreed the country is safer now,but that doesn’t mean future attacks aren’t possible.
“We’re in this for a long time,” Harman said. “Terror is not a thing. Terror is a tactic.”
Even with safety still a concern,Hastert said he has faith in citizens to protect the country.
“Sometimes,we underestimate the power and the heroism of the American people to stand up and do the right thing,” Hastert said. We have American heroes.”
Reach reporter Lindsey Erdody at [email protected] or 202-326-9866
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