Senate grapples with 'difficult week'
US Senate members struggled Thursday to come to terms with a tragic and tense week that included the nation's first major terror attack since 9/11, intercepted poison packages and a deadly Texas explosion.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and top Republican Mitch McConnell opened their chamber remarks by offering prayers to the victims of a devastating blast at a fertilizer factory the previous evening that rocked the small town of West, Texas near the city of Waco.
They noted the extraordinary series of events, including the twin bombs in Boston that killed three people and wounded 176, that left many on Capitol Hill recalling the September 11 attacks and the anthrax poisonings, both from 2011.
"Given the horrendous event of the Boston Marathon on Monday, followed by the event near Waco last night it's been a very difficult week for all of us," a somber McConnell said on the Senate floor.
"Our hearts are a little bit heavier."
Tucked between those two tragedies was perhaps the most immediate threat to the US Capitol complex in a dozen years -- an attempt by a Mississippi man to send a letter laced with the deadly poison ricin to Senator Roger Wicker.
"Americans should understand that this incident does not appear in any way to be related to the tragedy in Boston," said Reid, who called the crime "deeply disturbing."
"Nevertheless, it is a reminder to the Senate community, and to all Americans, to remain vigilant during these unsettling times."
The envelope was intercepted at an off-site Senate mail facility, and the Department of Justice announced an arrest in the case.
But on Wednesday, after calls by the Senate Sergeant at Arms to be extra vigilant, two Senate office buildings were placed on lockdown after suspicious packages were detected.
Two senators also announced there were suspicious packages found at offices in their home states. Those and the ones in the Senate office buildings all tested negative for poisonous material.
"It is perhaps an understatement to say it's been a difficult week for our country," said Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
Adding to the emotional quotient on Capitol Hill, relatives of the 20 children and six adults slaughtered in the Newtown school shooting spent much of the week making tearful pleas to senators to pass landmark gun legislation that would expand background checks for gun buyers.
The measure failed.