Isabel Scrambles Schedule
With the East Coast bracing for Hurricane Isabel, House leaders have decided to send lawmakers home early, while Senate leaders are insisting they’re likely to wait out the storm.
House GOP leadership sources confirmed Tuesday evening that there will now be no floor votes on Thursday. The House will wrap up the charitable giving bill today and adjourn by 8 p.m. to allow lawmakers to get out of town before the storm hits.
“We’re going home,” said one staffer.
Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had jokingly insisted that nothing was final.
“There has been no decision yet made about scheduling around the hurricane, but the DeLay Doppler satellite is monitoring the storm and we’ll have news for you later,” DeLay quipped to reporters.
Members were calling their leaders all day, inquiring if they will work through the storm or not. Lawmakers from states on the East Coast want to make sure that they can be in their districts before the storm hits, while Members from other parts of the nation are worried about flight cancellations preventing them from making it home.
“They don’t want to be trapped in Washington,” DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy explained.
While leaving as early as today will not set the House back much — it has passed all 13 appropriations bills — the Senate is another story.
Acknowledging they have a lot of work to do before taking the week of Oct. 6 off, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he is “not inclined” to send Senators home.
The Senate still has eight appropriations bills to finish.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said he spoke to Frist Tuesday morning and “our intention is to stay here through Thursday and Friday morning,” he said.
In September 1999, the last time Congress prepared to cope with hurricane-related conditions, the House cut its workweek short to allow Members to return home in anticipation of Hurricane Floyd, while the Senate elected to remain in session.
The National Weather Service down-graded Isabel to a Category 2 storm Tuesday and said the hurricane, about 570 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., as of 5 p.m., could further weaken during the day.
But the storm could still gain strength before reaching land, according to the weather service’s Web site.
The Architect of the Capitol is preparing the grounds for weather that could include heavy rains and high winds.
“Of course we’re going to do everything we can to protect the buildings here on the Capitol Campus against wind and water,” said AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki.
“We’re removing or anchoring any objects that could become airborne in the high winds,” she added. “We’re also checking storm drains and doing other preparation work to try to eliminate the possibility of water damage.”
The Architect’s office is checking its supply lists to ensure there are sufficient batteries and flashlights available in case of a power outage and preparing generators.
“We’ll be ready to respond and recover after the storm,” Malecki said.
Because the storm’s rating has been lowered by the National Weather Service, Malecki said it will not be necessary to prepare windows throughout the complex.
“We don’t anticipate having to tape or board any windows because of the storm being downgraded,” she said, later adding: “The building is pretty ready to withstand almost anything, so we’ll see what will happen.”
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said similar plans are in place there, noting that the court would take “general precautionary measures.”
The Capitol Police Department has not prepared specific plans with regard to the storm, according to Officer Contricia Sellers-Ford.
“We have a general evacuation plan,” she said. That plan would be used in an emergency, Sellers-Ford explained, if, for example, staffers needed to be moved from a building’s upper floors to a basement area for safety reasons.
Aides in both the Senate Rules and Administration and the House Administration panels said there are no actions planned to address the storm.
Susan Irby, a spokeswoman for Rules Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), suggested any decisions related to weather would be made today, depending on the storm’s classification.
“At this point there’s nothing that they’re initiating,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
The House Chief Administrative Officer has, however, created a new Web site specifically designed for Hurricane Isabel.
The “Hurricane Isabel Resource Page,” available through the House’s intranet, includes links to the America Red Cross, National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “A Guide to Hurricane Preparedness,” as well as information on “family disaster planning” and animal safety.
The possibility of inclement weather has also led to the cancelation of some events at the Capitol.
The U.S. Capitol Historical Society has rescheduled its 2003 Symposium, originally set for Friday to mid-November.
At the Smithsonian, however, officials at the National Gallery of Art did not plan to cancel any events as of press time Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the National Gallery said the museum would treat the developing weather as it would a winter snow-emergency.
Ben Pershing contributed to this report.