Tragedy is the surest antidote for partisanship on Capitol Hill.
Saturday's shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz. — which left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life and killed or wounded at least 19 others — shook the Capitol like no event since 9/11.
Like the terrorist attacks nearly a decade ago, the Congressional response to the Arizona shootings has largely transcended party affiliation: Members universally condemned the tragedy, put their work on hold and called for a new tone in Washington.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) immediately announced that all legislative activity on the House floor would be suspended — including a planned vote on a controversial, and highly partisan, health care repeal bill. He later announced that the House would consider at least one resolution Wednesday honoring Giffords and the victims. Democrats and Republicans said politics must be put aside to recognize the lives lost, which included a Giffords aide, a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. A Democratic leadership aide said Cantor's move "turned the heat down on the burner" and will help make it possible for the Hill community to "stop and think about what happened."
"An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday morning in brief remarks from West Chester, Ohio.
Roughly 40 people gathered outside the Capitol on Saturday night for a vigil, and House leaders held a bipartisan conference call Sunday afternoon to update Members, their spouses and chiefs of staff on the incident. Flags on the House side of the Capitol were flown at half-staff for Gabe Zimmerman, the 30-year-old Giffords aide who was killed.
In many ways, the Hill reaction mirrored that of Members in the days following Sept. 11, when Democrats and Republicans quieted their partisan bickering and talked about finding new opportunities to work together.
A somber Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said Saturday's shooting could actually lead to more civility.
"There used to be a time when we would assemble because the whole issue of civility had gotten to the point where there wasn't an awful lot of seeming discussion," Larson said after meeting Sunday with some of Giffords' staff. "I don't know if that necessarily will be resurrected again, but I do think something along those lines in terms of the comity needs to be extended from one Member to another and trying to understand and relate to the personal stresses that exist on people and their families serving here."
Other Members said the incident should serve as a reminder that words matter, and that they have a responsibility to mind what they say and how they say it.