Tax day in Washington turned into a tension-filled reminder that there are far worse problems to deal with than the federal budget, immigration reform, or even gun control, as bombings at the Boston Marathon brought the horrors of terrorism front and center into the national consciousness.
Almost immediately after the blasts hit the heart of the Massachusetts capital Monday afternoon, security was stepped up on Capitol Hill, in the area around the White House, and at other government buildings in Washington.
“We are monitoring intelligence at the national level,” Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said in a statement. He added that although there was “no present indication of threats to this campus,” Capitol Police were taking additional “practiced steps.”
Later on Monday evening, Capitol Police spokesman Shennell Antrobus said there was no information linking the explosions in Boston, which killed at least three people and injured more than 100, to any threats on Capitol Hill. But he said the department wants everyone in the community “to continue to be vigilant and communicate any concerns or suspicious activity to Capitol Police.”
A separate statement issued by the Capitol Police also encouraged reports of anything suspicious. “The department expects an increase in calls for service concerning unattended packages and suspicious activity,” the statement said. “We encourage members and staff to report anything of concern.” The statement also warned staff and visitors to expect an increased police presence on the Hill, “including visitor lines at doors and more-frequent canine inspections.”
Late Monday evening, authorities reported that no known threats to local targets had emerged. And Washington Mayor Vincent Gray was encouraging people to turn out on Tuesday for the annual Emancipation Day celebration marking the day in 1862 that President Lincoln freed slaves in the District of Columbia.
As events unfolded in the immediate wake of the Boston explosions, the Secret Service moved to shut down portions of Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House. Law-enforcement agencies throughout the region were closely monitoring developments.
Inside the White House, President Obama received afternoon briefings from FBI Director Robert Mueller and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the investigation and the federal response in Boston.
In a short public appearance Monday—about three hours after the explosions—Obama told the press that authorities still did not know who was responsible for the bombings or why they had been carried out. But the president said, “Make no mistake. We will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this. We will find out how they did this.”
Obama also declared, “Responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”
The president said he had reached out to congressional leaders in the wake of the blasts. “On days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats,” Obama said. “We are Americans united in concern for our fellow citizens.”
How long such unity might hold is anyone’s guess. As more details emerge, members of Congress and key committees are likely to have some tough questions for the Obama administration, and perhaps even some criticism about how the intelligence community did not see this coming—regardless of whether the bombings were a product of foreign or domestic terror.
For a day at least, partisanship was being set aside for declarations of sorrow and resolve in standing up to terrorism. At the request of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House observed a moment of silence Monday evening.
Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, both of whom are running in a primary for a Senate seat from Massachusetts, both suspended campaign activities on Monday, including phone banking, fundraising, and TV ads. Meanwhile, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., postponed a scheduled dinner on Monday night with reporters.
This article appears in the April 16, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.