PF Bentley

I have been on Capitol Hill for NEWSWEEK since September 12, covering the House and Senate as they work on our new American crisis as well as dealing with the day to day business of running the government.

For me, Mondays are frequently "off-days" on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are traveling back from their home districts and those who have remained in Washington use the day to catch up on office work and make phone calls.

But to members and their staffs, Monday October 15 was dramatically different. News quickly spread about a letter containing Anthrax that was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office in the Hart Building on Capitol Hill. The HazMat technicians arrived, Hart was closed, staffers tested and put on Cipro. As planned, I arrived on Monday night in order to be in place in Daschle's office Tuesday morning. When I got there on October 16, I was struck by how everything seemed to be operating as usual. Despite the trauma that everyone had been through, the government was indeed, functioning just fine.

A day later on the 17th, the word came that close to thirty of Senator Daschle's staffers had been exposed to Anthrax, as well as two Capitol Hill police officers a
nd two staffers from Senator Russell Feingold's office. The morning started with Daschle and health officials speaking to staffers in the LBJ room about the anthrax problem and what was being done to take care of it. The Senator asked that I not shoot anything out of respect for the privacy of the staffers but welcomed me to stay and listen to what they had to say.

Next stop was to the office of Jeri Thompson, Secretary of the Senate, to prep for a major news conference outside the Capitol at a place called “The Swamp” on the Senate side, where all the TV stand-ups are done. Senator Daschle, his staff and health officials huddled around the conference table to plan out who would answer what type of question.

Daschle then went over to Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office for a meeting concerning the anti-terrorism bill.
Just before the meeting started with other Members and staff, the leaders of the Senate and House- Daschle, Lott, Hastert and Gephardt got up and went into Speaker Hastert’s private office without staff to discuss the potential closing of buildings in the Capitol complex. That was my photo of the day.

I shot the anti-terrorism bill meeting and then it was back to Jeri Thompson’s office for the second press conference prep of the day. This would be an update on the earlier news and what was being done about the anthrax problem.

The Mansfield room was packed but I found a place on the side and made some snaps of Daschle, Lott and the health officials all answering questions from a room full of reporters, TV crews and fellow still photographers.

I edited and transmitted until 11pm since I had no time to process the digital files all day. It was shoot and dump, shoot and dump all day with no time to look at anything. There was no set schedule and events were happening fast. I had to be alert and ready to move quickly.

When I finally finished and had a moment to breathe, I realized that I had just covered a quite amazing day of history on the Hill.

-PF Bentley
Washington, DC

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