Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy recalled the solidarity 9/11 provoked: That night we gathered on the east steps of the Capitol. It was Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate it was unlike anything Ive ever experienced in my life.
This week, as the nation prepares to observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Roll Call looks back at how Capitol Hill responded to the attacks and how that day’s events changed — and didn’t change — life in Washington.
Tina Tate “Get your people out of there.”
On 9/11, Tina Tate found herself in the midst of journalists rushing to report on breaking news and the breaking news itself.
As director of the House Radio-TV Gallery, her job was to offer support to the dozens of journalists going in and out of the gallery that day. But after a plane hit the Pentagon, she and her staff rushed the few remaining reporters out of the gallery.
“Ted Barrett from CNN called me from outside and said, ‘Get your people out of there,’” she recalled.
Tate turned to look out of her office window on the West Front of the Capitol and saw smoke pouring from the direction of the Pentagon.
Then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) had stopped in front of the Capitol to hold a news conference, and Tate stopped to support that, but they were guided away by police.
“For the rest of the day, I was trying to figure out where to go to find out what was happening,” she said.
She found herself at Fox News headquarters and spent the day there, watching the story develop. When she was finally allowed back onto the Capitol grounds, to get her car, Tate found a poignant reminder of the fear that gripped the city that morning.
“As you walked across the grounds, there were empty shoes littering the ground. People who had been running had run out of their shoes,” she said.
The magnitude-5.8 earthquake that rattled the capital last month triggered some unpleasant memories for former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.).
He is now an adviser for D.C.-based Alston & Bird, and though he wasn’t in town for the quake, the images he saw of how things unfolded on the Hill that day were similar in his mind to 9/11.
“It’s just a normal day in the office, just like any other,” he said. “And then something happens, and you stumble out into the street and everything’s changed, but it’s still a beautiful day outside just like before.”
One of the challenges lawmakers faced in the moments following the attack was balancing their responsibilities as Members of Congress while dealing with the fallout on a personal level with family and staff.
This dilemma was all the more frustrating because it was just as difficult for Members to get reliable information as it was for citizens.
“My press secretary had a brother in the New York City police force, and she hadn’t been able to get a hold of him all day,” Pomeroy said. “At the end of the day she got a call that he was OK, but it was all very emotional. We were dealing with staff members on a personal level, while trying to respond to constituents back in North Dakota about the broader implications of a situation we didn’t understand. We were gathered at the home of a staff member who lived a few blocks away, watching CNN like everyone else.”
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.