A small private plane entered the Capitol’s restricted airspace Wednesday afternoon and left minutes later, putting the Capitol on a heightened alert for the second time in a week.
[IMGCAP(1)]The plane was headed to the center of the restricted area had no flight plan and didn’t respond to radio calls, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said. Police put the building on a code orange alert — the step before a full, mandatory evacuation.
But like last week, there are reports that those who knew of the alert left the building pre-emptively. The two incidents happened so close together, Gainer said, that police hadn’t yet made official recommendations on how to improve on last week’s actions.
In fact, Gainer and Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse were meeting with House and Senate officers to discuss last week’s incident when they got word of the code orange.
Minutes later, federal officials were able to change the plane’s path, and it landed in Leesburg, Va. Although the investigation is ongoing, police believe the plane was newly purchased and the pilot became lost while traveling from Maryland to Texas.
Shhhhh! Capitol Police arrested 10 protesters outside the Senate chamber Wednesday for shouting in the gallery while Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) addressed the floor.
Two men and eight women from the National Committee for Nonviolent Resistance, wearing gauze shrouds over their heads, were arrested for disrupting Congress and may face charges, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer.
While Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) called the chamber into recess, police closed down the hallway outside the gallery to make the arrests.
“We were trying to be sensitive to what they were trying to do but also maintain the dignity of Congress,” Gainer said.
Trading Up. Despite opposition from Capitol Hill Democrats, Congress probably will have to contend with the Colombia free-trade agreement after the two-week March recess. President Bush and Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Wednesday stepped up lobbying efforts for the FTA, with Schwab saying the administration will send a bill to Congress even if it hasn’t reached agreement with Democrats.
“Do we have a bipartisan path moving forward? No we don’t,” Schwab said. “That is what’s disturbing.”
Business groups and their union and environmentalist critics have ramped up. Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club sent a letter Wednesday to Members blasting the deal. “Trade agreements should support, rather than undermine, environmental protection, human rights and labor standards,” they wrote.
War Anniversary. The House and Senate will host a joint service Thursday morning in the Capitol Rotunda to mark the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War and ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. The ceremony, which will be attended by both House and Senate leaders, begins at 9:30 a.m.
—Emily Yehle, Steven T. Dennis, Kate Ackley and Jennifer Yachnin