Lawmakers Exasperated by Capitol Hill Evacuations
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers from both parties expressed exasperation on Wednesday over how security officials handled the second air incursion surrounding the Capitol in less than a week.
Tourists were evacuated from the building shortly after noon Wednesday. House Minority Leader John Boehner was evacuated. But most others were not.
Michigan Rep. Vern Ehlers, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, which oversees Capitol security, told FOX News that he thinks the issue has reached the point that it needs to be addressed formally.
He suggested that authorities determine evacuations based on the type of aircraft coming in. In other words, a jet will do a lot more damage than a Cessna, and should be treated more urgently.
A single-engine airplane came to within six miles of the U.S. Capitol before it was diverted by two F-16 jet fighters to an airfield in Leesburg, Virginia, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday.
FAA spokesman Hank Price said the Cessna 177 took off from an airport in Maryland and entered restricted airspace about 30 miles north of Washington. Price said the aircraft was flying at 1,800 feet and had no radio. The jets intercepted the plane and it landed at the Leesburg airport a little more than a half hour later.
As the plane neared Washington, Capitol Police started moving people out of the building after raising the threat level from yellow to orange. A full evacuation never was implemented.
During another evacuation last week, much of the Senate was pushed out of the building, but House representatives and employees were sporadically alerted to leave. House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn was evacuated, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not.
At a press conference on camera about the budget on Wednesday, several Democrats were stunned to learn that some personnel had been removed from the Capitol.
"I know I wasn't important enough to be evacuated. That's all I know," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
While caught unaware, Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., said every time an evacuation is ordered, it has usually been caused by a private pilot in a small plane using an old map. Ross suggested that the size of the plane is irrelevant because one dirty bomb could do a lot of damage. But, he said, sending everyone a map could be done for the money spent on one evacuation.
"I'm sure its running a million dollars every time there's an evacuation, wouldn't it make a lot more sense to send every private pilot in America one of the updated maps?" he asked.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.