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8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001: White House Staffers Are Preparing for the Annual Congressional Picnic

The annual Congressional picnic.The annual Congressional picnic. [Source: Grant Miller / White House]Many staffers at the White House are busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic at the time the terrorist attacks begin. [Lancaster Newspapers, 9/8/2011; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016] The Congressional picnic is a bipartisan event held on the South Lawn of the White House, which brings together members of Congress, their families, and members of the administration for a casual and lighthearted evening. [CNN, 6/23/2017] An estimated 1,500 to 1,800 people are expected to attend today’s event, which is scheduled to begin at about 7 o’clock this evening. [C-SPAN, 7/11/2011] A caterer from Texas has been helping to prepare the food and a band has been booked to provide music. [Scheib and Friedman, 2007, pp. 255; Bush, 2010, pp. 197; Washington Post, 9/6/2011; Brower, 2015, pp. 256] About 16 White House chefs are busy getting ready for the event. [Lancaster Newspapers, 9/8/2011] Meanwhile, members of the Army are at the southeast gate, delivering mobile kitchens for it. [Scheib and Friedman, 2007, pp. 255] About 170 to 180 picnic tables have already been set up on the South Lawn, along with a stage. [Values in World Thought, 4/4/2006; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016] However, the event will be canceled in response to this morning’s attacks. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Oklahoman, 10/16/2002] Much of the food prepared for it will be given to members of the Secret Service, Washington, DC, police, and National Guard who respond to the crisis, and to staffers who stay behind after the White House is evacuated. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Brower, 2015, pp. 265] Some people will later point out how much death and destruction could have resulted if the Congressional picnic had been a target of today’s attacks. (White House press secretary Ari Fleischer publicly announced, four days ago, that the picnic would be taking place on the South Lawn this evening, so terrorists could presumably have learned when they needed to carry out an attack if they wanted to target the event. [White House, 9/7/2001] ) “Had [the attacks] occurred at night and had the White House been a target, [the terrorists] would’ve been able to wipe out the entire United States government,” Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, will comment. [Smithsonian Channel, 2/16/2009] “If the terrorists knew the entire government was going to be on the South Lawn at 5:30 at night, they could have killed everybody,” Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ) will say. [South Jersey Magazine, 9/2011]

Entity Tags: Gary Walters, Rob Andrews

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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