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After Lockdown, Senators Express Condolences

After Lockdown, Senators Express Condolences

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 16, 2013

The U.S. Senate nixed its planned work session and went into lockdown mode Monday after a deadly mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, just a mile and a half from the Capitol.

With reports of additional shooters at large and questions about whether there could be threats beyond the grounds of the military complex, the sergeant at arms authorized a roughly 70-minute lockdown on the Senate side of the Capitol only, as the House was not in session.

“While this approach is inconvenient, it is at times necessary. The lessons of Boston, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Aurora are clear, and just still too raw,” said Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer. The procedure bought time for the Capitol Hill police to assess the grounds and monitor people approaching the building, he said.

The lockdown was partially lifted around 4:15, after the Metropolitan Police Department cleared its lookout for another suspect. Only staff members were allowed to enter the Senate building. No visitors were to be allowed until the start of business Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled votes planned for Monday evening, and the chamber was to be in recess until Tuesday morning.

The shooting hit home with lawmakers, given their proximity to the shooting that left 13 people dead, including the alleged shooter, Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist.

The tragedy was the single deadliest event Washington, D.C., has experienced since 1982, when a plane crashed into the Potomac River, killing 78 people. The 9/11 terrorist attack hit the Pentagon, which is in Virginia. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a delegate who represents the District of Columbia, recalled that event and its impact on the city. “We've not had a day like this since 9/11 for good reasons,” she said at a press conference.

Meanwhile, somber senators took to the chamber floor to offer their sympathies. “Many people in the area -- and across the country -- will be directly affected by this terrible tragedy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. House Speaker John Boehner described Monday as a “dark day” and thanked Capitol Hill police and first responders. “Every day, a special breed of men and women go to work at the Navy Yard, and they do so just blocks from our Capitol. These are our neighbors and our defenders,” Boehner said.

Reid, Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders echoed those sentiments. The House will observe a moment of silence on Tuesday evening, after lawmakers return to the Capitol. A Senate committee hearing Tuesday on Stand Your Ground laws -- an examination made in light of the Trayvon Martin shooting -- has been postponed.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and Ranking Member Adam Smith recalled the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, in which Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time we've seen such a tragedy befall the patriotic personnel working at a U.S. Military installation,” the congressmen said in a joint statement.

President Obama pledged a “seamless” investigation into the shootings and called Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to offer condolences. His deputy chief of staff and his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser briefed him throughout the day. Obama order flags to be flown at half-staff until Friday evening to honor the victims.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a top advocate of tougher gun laws, called for Congress to resume the debate on gun violence. “This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons -- including a military-style assault rifle -- and kill many people in a short amount of time,” Feinstein said, referring to reports that the shooter used an AR-15. Feinstein introduced an assault weapons ban after the Sandy Hook massacre last December, but the measure got little traction in the Senate.

RCP White House Correspondent Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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