Lawmakers Try to Learn History's Lessons

The September eleventh terrorist attacks have had an enduring impact on Kentucky’s congressional delegation. In a roundabout way it spurred one member to run for Congress and it also changed the duties of the state’s lawmakers.  

A decade ago on the morning of September eleventh, Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers watched T-V as plumes of smoke poured out of the Twin Towers.

“All of a sudden there was a jarring of our building,” said Rogers.

Roger’s DC area condo is just blocks from the Pentagon. After the plane crushed one side of the military complex, he ran to the window with his wife.

“And saw that ugly black mushroom cloud rising above the Pentagon right there in my face. And Cynthia screamed out, “Hal, what’s going on?” and I said, “We’re at war.”

Last year, when WEKU spent a day with Rogers, the senior Republican recounted how that day changed the nation and his life.

ROGERS2 “We’re no longer an island. We used to be safe because we had two oceans on either side and two friends on the north and south. We still have that, but we’re now vulnerable.”

When the Homeland Security Department was formed in the aftermath of the attacks, Rogers was named the first chair of the subcommittee charged with funding the agency. That meant he directly controlled much of the security apparatus that’s been instituted since that dark day.

“We had to a feel our way along, and try things and try another thing. To try to build a defense for the country and that’s consumed me since,” said Rogers.

Even for Kentucky’s lawmakers who weren’t yet in Congress, the attacks have colored their tenure. Kentucky Democrat Ben Chandler was elected four years later.

“Well it was a seismic shift for the nation,” said Chandler.

Chandler sits on both the Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence Committees. From those posts he’s had an inside glimpse at the long, deadly struggle to stabilize Afghanistan. They also gave Chandler a say over domestic security measures. Along the way, he says Congress made some mis-steps.

“We’ve probably done some overkill, we’ve probably been overly careful for instance with airline security, but all you need is one person to get on a plane to cause incredible damage, the loss of lives and untold trouble for the country,” Chandler.

Those security measures rankle Kentucky’s newest addition to Congress, Republican Senator Rand Paul.

“Well I think some of the things at the airport really annoy those of us who travel frequently, and businessmen and women who have travel around the country. And I’m not sure they’ve made us safer. They’ve definitely made things more onerous and unpleasant to go through the airport,” said Paul.

Then there’s the Iraq War. At the time Kentucky Republicans and the overwhelming majority of Congress supported the effort to dislodge Sadam Hussein from power. In 2006 the nation grew weary of that war and sent a new breed of anti-war Democrats to Washington. Kentucky’s John Yarmuth was in that class.

“Well I don’t think I ever would have even thought about running for Congress if it hadn’t been for what I considered to be the follies of the Bush Administration, and the direction that they were going in. So in a sense I owe my career here to the aftermath of 9-11,” said Yarmuth.

As for whether all the bombs that have been dropped and the new security measures have made U-S citizen’s safer? Yarmuth says the attacks were a wakeup call.

“I think the nation now is safer. I think the world is more dangerous, but I think we’re much better equipped to deal with it now,” said Yarmuth.