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Calming Capitol nerves in D.C.

February 04, 2004

Josh Kleinbaum

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

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(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

frayed nerves.

"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."

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