April 17, 2013

Letter Sent To Obama Tests Positive For Ricin, FBI Says

A letter addressed to President Obama containing a substance that preliminary tests indicate was the deadly poison ricin has been intercepted at a remote mail facility, the FBI confirmed Wednesday.

Just a few miles away from the White House, suspicious packages delivered to two Senate office buildings brought bomb experts to the scene and forced police to tell staffers to remain in their offices. The packages were removed and after about an hour police gave the "all-clear."

The incidents follow Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon and the discovery of another possibly poisoned letter — addressed to Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Miss. — on Tuesday.

The FBI says there is no indication that the letters or packages are connected to the Boston bombings.

12:50 p.m. ET Where Things Stand.
— White House. A letter addressed to President Obama was intercepted at a remote mail handling facility on Tuesday and the FBI says preliminary tests indicated it may contain the poison ricin.

— Senate. Meanwhile, police were investigating suspicious packages delivered to the Russell and Hart Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill. Those buildings were not been evacuated, but staffers were asked to avoid some areas. Capitol Police tell NPR's Tamara Keith that they were talking to an individual. By about 12:50 p.m. ET, authorities had removed the packages and issued an "all-clear."

— Boston. Wednesday's incidents follow, of course, the bombing Monday at the Boston Marathon and word Tuesday that another letter, addressed to Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, preliminarily tested positive for ricin. According to the FBI, "the investigation into these letters remains ongoing, and more letters may still be received. There is no indication of a connection to the attack in Boston."

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. All Clear In The Senate Buildings:

Police have removed the suspicious packages from the Russell and Hart Senate office buildings, CNN reports, and issued an "all-clear."

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. What Is Ricin?

As we wrote Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control says, the "ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. ... If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released ricin can cause injury. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans."

The Washington Post reported in 2004 that ricin is "twice as deadly as cobra venom."

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: "A letter addressed to the president containing a suspicious substance" was received Tuesday at "the remote White House mail screening facility," the Secret Service confirmed Wednesday morning in an email to NPR's Ari Shapiro.

In early afternoon, the FBI issued a statement, saying that the substance "preliminarily tested positive for ricin." And it added that "filters at a second government mail screening facility preliminarily tested positive for ricin this morning. Mail from that facility is being tested."

This followed the news Tuesday that an envelope sent to the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., tested positive for the poison ricin in initial tests.

Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. Staff Told To Avoid Area.

This announcement was just made over the public address system in the Senate office buildings, NPR's Tamara Keith tells us:

    "The U.S. Capitol police are continuing to investigate the suspicious packages in the first and third floors of the Hart senate office building. All staff and other personnel are to avoid this area until further notice."

Bear in mind: These type of situations do occur occasionally on Capitol Hill. Today's events are getting more attention, obviously, because they closely follow Monday's bombing at the Boston Marathon and the suspicious letter sent to Wicker.

Update at 12:07 p.m. ET. Package To Sen. Shelby:

A spokesman for Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., says Capitol Police are investigating a "suspicious package" that arrived at the senator's office this morning, CNN says.

Update at noon ET. On The Police Activity On Capitol Hill:

Politico now writes that "the Secret Service Wednesday said it was investigating a suspicious substance that was found on a letter sent to President Barack Obama, as Capitol Police responded to reports of suspicious packages in the Hart and Russell Senate office buildings. A bomb squad is on the scene on Capitol Hill, but the buildings have not been evacuated. Certain areas of the buildings have been closed."

Update at 11:55 a.m. ET. Bomb Squad At Senate Office Buildings?

"bomb squad [is] on the scene at Hart and Russell Senate office buildings" in Washington, D.C.

The Associated Press says "U.S. Capitol police are investigating the discovery of at least two suspicious envelopes in Senate office buildings across the street from the Capitol."

It was not clear whether there was a connection between the letter and the two envelopes.

Update at 11:45 a.m. ET. Similar To Letter Sent To Wicker, Source Tells AP:

Politico tweets that "A law enforcement official said the letter [sent to Obama] is very similar to one recently mailed to Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker," The Associated Press reports. "The official requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation."

Note: We will focus on reports from NPR, other news outlets with expertise, and statements from authorities who are in a position to know what's going on. And if some of that information turns out to be wrong, we'll update.

April 12, 2013

Shimkus, Davis, Weigh in on Obama Budget Plan

A downstate Illinois Congressman says President Barack Obama is taking a ‘realistic’ approach in his fiscal budget.  But a fellow Republican calls cuts to Medicare and Social Security 'irresponsible.'

Collinsville Republican John Shimkus notes many are also ‘fired up’ over adjustments to total personal income in Medicare and Social Security.  He says entitlements are driving up the debt, and applauds the President for having a solution. 

But Shimkus said there are other parts of the plan he identifies as waste.

"We spend $100-million to remediate the environmental concerns of other countries," he said.  "We have a $4-million IRS TV studio.  So when you’re laying off air traffic controllers, I think you can make the credible argument – would you rather be sending money overseas for environmental issues, or funding our air traffic control towers?”

Meanwhile, Taylorville Republican Rodney Davis says he’s ‘ecstatic’ that the House, Senate, and President have each willingly released budget plans for the first time in four years.

But  Davis says President Barack Obama’s proposed new taxes and spending ‘aren’t good fiscal policy’.

He said one of the President’s plans that he can’t accept is the $1-point-1 trillion in new taxes.

Davis also said it’s irresponsible for the President to cut benefits to entitlement programs.  He said  the U.S. House budget will balance in 10 years, and won’t impact Social Security.

“And I think we’re at a time when we can all come together and make sure that the solvency of social security is a priority, which is something that politicians of both parties have done – kicked the can down the road and not addressed. And we need to do the same with Medicare," he said.  "Our budget that we put forth preserves and protects Medicare.  Our budget that we put forth preserves and protects Medicare, adds absolutely no changes to Medicare for current beneficiaries, or those who are about to retire.”

A member of the House Agricutlure Committee, Davis said he's waiting to see what kind of details come out in that area.  Davis said he's looking forward to working on a 2014 Farm Bill.

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