April 19 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama stayed publicly mum and placed private calls to top government officials to express solidarity with Boston residents, as a door-to-door manhunt for the surviving suspect in the deadly terror bombings dragged into a second tense evening.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Americans are in a “direct confrontation with evil,” while other top officials in the U.S. and around the world watched as developments emerged about the bombing suspects. One was killed last night after a shootout with police, the other was at large and thought to be dangerous.
“Like everyone, we’re going to keep watching, and we’ll await word from the law enforcement officers before commenting further,” Kerry said at the State Department in Washington, after participating via videoconference in a White House briefing on the investigation.
Obama, who huddled this morning with Kerry and other top national security officials at the White House, received briefings throughout the day, including an afternoon session in the Oval Office with his counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, according to a White House official.
Afterward, Obama called Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to offer condolences to an officer killed last night in the suspects’ clashes with police. He told them the country is behind their city and state, and promised that the full force of the U.S. government would remain available until those responsible for the bombings are brought to justice, according to the official.
That was as much information as the White House would give at the end of a day of uncertainty and rapid-fire developments, after Obama’s staff canceled the regular midday press briefing amid questions about the suspects, their possible motives, and how the law enforcement effort would end.
More than 400 miles to the northeast, police had the Boston area on lockdown for most of the day as they searched for 19-year-old Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the Kyrgyzstan-born man suspected of carrying out the April 15 attack with his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who died in a shootout with police after a night of violence that claimed the life of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer.
“This is crazy,” Tagg Romney, the son of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said in a posting on the micro-messaging social network Twitter. “We are locked down in our home. Don’t understand why these monsters have done this.”
At a briefing late today, Patrick lifted the government’s request that resident’s remain indoors while urging the public to remain vigilant.
With the nation’s attention riveted on images of armored vehicles and camouflage-clad law enforcement officers combing neighborhoods around Boston, Kerry made a point of going forward with a news conference in Washington to deliver the State Department’s annual human rights report.
“Some people asked whether or not we might postpone this today because of all of what is going on, but we thought that, on the contrary, that it’s a part of human rights to make clear that people have the right to run in a marathon without violence,” he said as he opened an afternoon news conference on the report. Kerry took no questions.
Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan, and his older brother Tamerlan, the second suspect who was killed, was born in Russia, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter. At least one of the brothers was a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to the officials.
Russia is “very attentively watching” the developments, said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Washington, where members of Congress had mostly departed after having finished the week’s legislative business yesterday, up-to-date information was difficult to come by even for lawmakers and administration officials. Through the day, they and their staffs were glued to cable television to follow the latest developments.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, was being kept up to date frequently by administration officials, who were sharing information as they received it, according to a top aide. Congressional leaders had received no briefings, nor heard of plans for any, by mid-afternoon.
At the Capitol, on alert all week after the discovery of a ricin-laced letter to a senator and another to Obama, the visitor’s center was briefly evacuated today after reports of a suspicious package. Meanwhile, the potential ripple effects of the bombings were reverberating.
At a hearing to discuss a bipartisan rewrite of immigration laws unveiled this week, some lawmakers said information about the bombing suspects should influence how Congress handles the issue.
“Given the events of this week, it is important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” said Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who has opposed previous efforts to offer legal status to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., as the measure would do.
“While we don’t yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities of Massachusetts,” Grassley added, it could “shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”
Democratic proponents of the measure urged lawmakers not to allow the situation in Boston to derail it. People shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” and “conflate” the events in Boston with the immigration rewrite proposal, said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, co-authors with Schumer and five other senators of the bipartisan bill, issued a statement maintaining that the Boston drama underscored, rather than undermined, the case for their compromise.
“Some have already suggested that the circumstances of this terrible tragedy are justification for delaying or stopping entirely the effort for comprehensive immigration reform,” McCain and Graham said. “In fact, the opposite is true: Immigration reform will strengthen our nation’s security by helping us identify exactly who has entered our country and who has left –- a basic function of government that our broken immigration system is incapable of accomplishing today.”
A coalition of organizations pressing for the measure scrapped its usual Friday immigration briefing in light of the unfolding saga in Boston.
“It’s premature to jump to final conclusions about the attackers, and it’s shameful that some on the far right are politicizing and demagoguing this issue,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, said in a statement announcing the cancellation. “Those exploiting this tragedy in hopes of derailing immigration reform were opponents of reform long before this week.”
The situation also promised to feed a lively debate over how to handle terrorism suspects. Graham said Obama should consider holding Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant,” adding that he could be a “treasure trove of information,” about overseas terrorist groups.
“The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to ‘remain silent,’” Graham wrote on Twitter, referring to the standard police warnings given to U.S. criminal suspects before interrogating them. The Obama administration, he added, “should not rush into a bad decision.”
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