Four top lawmakers were missing President Bush’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, asked by congressional leaders to instead go to undisclosed locations in case the Capitol was hit by a catastrophic attack.
The senators were Harry Reid of Nevada, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, and Trent Lott, R-Miss., chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee and former GOP leader.
House members were George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, and Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. Those panels research issues for each party’s lawmakers.
The moves came amid the usual tight security for the speech, which has intensified since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For the last two State of the Union speeches, some congressional leaders — but not all — have asked one of their members to stay away.
A statement by Reid’s office said the moves were not due to a specific threat but to try preserving some continuity of the House and Senate if disaster occurred. The speech, on Congress’ first day of the 2004 session, was expected to draw most members of both bodies.
“I’m sorry Ill miss the speech, but I was asked to take on this responsibility for the country and I’m happy to do it,” Reid said in a written statement.
By tradition, a member of the president’s Cabinet also misses the speech as a precaution against the entire administration being wiped out.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg declined to discuss whether any security requests had been made of the justices.
Most Supreme Court justices routinely skip the address. In 2001 and 2003, Justice Stephen Breyer, the court’s newest member, was the only one to attend. Breyer was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2002.
“The practice has not been for all of them to go,” Arberg said. “They do not give a reason for why they’re not attending.”