The meeting was suspended, but the conferees were braced for an uncertain stay in Washington because all commercial aircraft were grounded and airports closed.
The Capitol Hilton, where the members of the National Automobile Dealers Association and dealers’ state association executives were meeting, is about three miles by air from the Pentagon.
NADA Chairman Robert Maguire said in an interview, "The dealers gathered here today in Washington in order to see our government at work. We are witnessing our government at work, but in a different way. We’re watching and observing an emergency action plan go into play."
Vice Chairman Carter Myers said he had gotten up early Tuesday and jogged around the White House, the Capitol and the nation’s most famous monuments and thought, "Our country seemed very, very safe and secure."
But he added, "Things change fast."
He said he is confident that President Bush is the right leader to see the country through the crisis.
"Life will go on," he told the hushed crowd before the meeting was closed. "We’ll pray for the people involved in this today."
NADA leaders stated the obvious, that their own Washington agenda is not significant at this moment, but they encouraged members to follow up with their lawmakers when things start to return to normal.
Outside, streets were gridlocked by people in vehicles trying to evacuate downtown Washington, but there were no obvious signs of panic. To the south the sky was darkened by the Pentagon fire. Security personnel cordoned off a several block-wide perimeter around the White House.