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“The roads were gridlocked so I couldn’t drive back home to Northern Virginia,” he said. “My wife and I and about a third of our staff went to a staffer’s apartment on Fifth and A [streets], where we stayed glued to the news. Everything we knew, we got from the TV.”
The Senator didn’t get any official information about the attacks until the following morning.
“They began briefing us right away,” Grassley said. “We had three kinds of meetings: an update on what had happened, an update about our own safety, and then that same week we began having policy discussions.”
Grassley said there was a rare sense of unity among Democrats and Republicans in the days that followed, although it lasted for only a short time.
“The Democratic and Republican caucuses were meeting on what needed to be done, and I would say there was almost complete unanimity between the parties for the rest of the year,” he said. “If you remember, when we passed the [USA] PATRIOT Act, I think there was only one or two dissenters, and now look at how controversial it is. That level of agreement was surprising, but then it was also surprising how quickly it fell apart.”
“We weren’t even allowed to have cellphones back then. We used land lines from the building
to call our parents.”
Jena Gross was a 16-year-old Senate page who had been in Washington for nine days when the planes struck.
“We were walking down the stairs, and the Capitol Police pushed the magnetometers aside and were yelling at us to run out of the Capitol,” she said. “Nobody knew what was going on. We were crying and holding hands as we ran out.”
Many of the pages were away from their families for the first time. Gross said the newness of that experience, coupled with the hysteria surrounding the attacks, left the details of the day vividly etched in her mind.
“I looked up, and the sky was filled with gray smoke from the Pentagon,” she said. “But there was one small patch of sky that was clear, and there was a plane looming up there. It was probably just a commuter plane landing, but we didn’t know at that point what to expect from anything that was in the air. There were flashes of light from photographers as we ran out, staffers were cramming into taxis and cars were making U-turns. It was total chaos.”
The page program staffers kept the pages together as they made their way back to the dormitory a few blocks away.
“The Senate day care was next door, and they evacuated the children to our dorm,” Gross said. “There were cribs in the basement and kids everywhere. Most of them were too young to know what was going on.”
The lack of reliable information added to the confusion.
When compared with the social networking and citizen reporting of today, there was a considerable dearth of information technology in 2001.