UPDATE, 11/5, 5a: It occurred to me yesterday that Reid’s staffers likely didn’t tell the press the topic of Koop’s letter. But Koop did, at least in part. Here’s the epilogue, from Roll Call:
Reached at his home Wednesday, Koop confirmed that he wrote a few “beautifully typed” pages on his views of the health care legislation. The fact that it caused a Capitol Hill scare is “nonsense,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware that sending a hand-delivered letter was an offense,” he said, later adding: “I did it over a weekend. I don’t have a lot of secretarial help and I’m 93.”
Koop said the letter asked that health care legislation include a provision to ensure doctors and medical students would not be forced to perform abortions.
He has not heard from Reid’s office, he said….
Sources say the letter – stampless and with “C. Everett Koop” written in the upper-left corner – appeared in the office’s outgoing box. The postal clerk alerted the office to the letter, and staffers reported it as a suspicious package to the Capitol Police. Reid’s office was closed for about 45 minutes while officers worked to clear the envelope….
We keep reading abortion is the hold-up on passage of nationalized healthcare, but what an object lesson this was.
Following is a story this afternoon from The Hill, but it omits a key point. The topic of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was keeping abortion out of healthcare. A Senate staffer sent me the letter.
So it could be said the controversy over abortion in healthcare shut down the US Senate today. How embarrassing for their side…
A letter about healthcare reform to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), apparently from former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, triggered a security scare that briefly shut down much of the Senate on Wednesday….
The typed letter, tucked inside a hand-written business envelope, appeared in Reid’s office without postage, in an outgoing mailbox bin. A Senate postal clerk noticed the envelope and alerted a Reid staffer, who in turn notified Capitol Police about 2p.
A small swarm of officers responded, first shutting down the hallway outside Reid’s office and then taking the even rarer step of shutting down the wide Ohio Clock corridor that senators use for press conferences outside the Senate’s main entrance. Mindful of the ricin and anthrax attacks in 2001, teams of hazardous materials technicians were called and tested the envelope before opening it and discovering Koop’s letter.
“The staff in the Capitol in particular and on the Hill in general are very sensitive to mail that ends up in an office and hasn’t been cleared,” said Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer.
Gainer said Senate officials have not yet contacted Koop to verify that the letter was his, but said the letter did discuss healthcare reform. Gainer described the letter as typed and well-written, and addressed to Reid as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Gainer said investigators still don’t know how the letter ended up in Reid’s office.
Koop was the U.S.’s 13th surgeon general, serving during the Reagan administration from January 1982 to October 1989. He is a professor at Dartmouth Medical School.
An assistant to Koop, reached at his Dartmouth office, was unaware of the letter but said it is likely Koop’s if it contained his signature. The assistant also said Koop was not reachable Wednesday and apparently acted on his own and was not representing the school.
Some Senate business continued as usual during the hour-long security scare, as senators continued with scheduled floor speeches. The closed hallways prevented many aides and staffers from reaching or leaving their offices, however, and much of Reid’s own staff was apparently cooped up inside the 2nd-floor suite.