Congress lacks response plan for terror attacks

Ten years after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has yet to develop contingency plans in case of a scenario where a large number of lawmakers are either killed or incapacitated, a new report has revealed.

The recent arrest of Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old man accused of plotting to fly an explosives-laden remote controlled airplane into the U.S. Capitol, seems to have done little to stimulate debate over the issue, according to the Washington Post.

“It is dismaying that 10 years later, the only plans we have in place to deal with a devastating terrorist attack on Congress are unrealistic, unconstitutional and/or counterproductive,” Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said, the Washington Post reports.

A major terrorist attack on the Capitol could potentially leave either the House or the Senate without enough congressmen fit for a quorum, meaning the chambers would effectively cease to function as lawmaking bodies. Or, if a large number of representatives were killed in an attack, a small number of lawmakers would be left responsible for setting national policy.

In 2003, the Continuity of Government Commission, a private group led by former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler and former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) recommended creating a constitutional amendment that would allow House members to be appointed temporarily in the case of such an emergency.

Senators can be appointed, but all House members must be elected by the people. The Republicans controlled the House at the time the committee issued its report and felt it would be wrong to change that principle, according to the Washington Post.

In 2005, a law was passed that called for special expedited elections for the House should 100 or more seats become vacant due to “extraordinary circumstances.” The House also passed a measure allowing the speaker to define the size of a quorum in an emergency.

Ornstein said that the changes would make little difference. He wrote that it would be nearly impossible to carry out the elections fast enough and that the changes in quorum rules could be unconstitutional.

“If you wanted to destroy the American government, you would destroy the House of Representatives and it would be crippled,” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) said, the Washington Post reports. “There ought to be a remedy for that so that our enemies couldn’t destroy us.

“Republicans have made clear they’re not willing to do anything further, so I’m working on things where there might be a chance something could happen."