"Words do have consequences," Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat in House leadership, said Sunday. "I think that what has happened here is that the vitriol has gotten so elevated until people feel emboldened by this ... they go out and do things that all of us pay a great price for."
"We live in a world of violent images and violent words, but those of us in public life and the journalists who cover us should be thoughtful in response to this and try to bring down the rhetoric, which I'm afraid has become pervasive in our discussion of political issues," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "The phrase 'don't retreat ... reload,' putting cross hairs on Congressional districts as targets, these sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response."
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has used that phrase, and the imagery refers to Palin's "hit list" of Members whom she wanted defeated in 2010. Durbin was careful to note that he was not directly tying them to Giffords' shooting, but he said there is an "obligation" for public officials to speak up when rhetoric goes too far. Republican aides, meanwhile, bristled at what they perceived as a Democratic attempt to tie the shooting to Palin or the tea party movement, noting that the suspect has no known political affiliations.
Giffords had herself condemned Palin's imagery in a March MSNBC interview.
"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun site over our district. The more people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action," Giffords said. "All of us have to come together and say there's a fine line here."
Members said they hoped the shooting would not impede Members' ability to interact with their constituents.
"We must, in a democracy, have access to our constituents," Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think what we are seeing, though, is you know the — the public is being riled up to the point where those kinds of ... events and opportunities for people to express their opinions to us are ... becoming a little volatile."
Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) told Roll Call that he immediately thought of the staffers who were injured or killed.
"I think about the number of times I asked my team to be in contentious situations, it just gives one pause," said Perriello, whose town hall meetings in Southside Virginia in 2009 and 2010 were often raucous. He also saw his own family members threatened when someone cut gas lines to his brother's home.
Giffords' Arizona colleague Rep. Trent Franks, a conservative Republican, characterized the shooting as "an attack not only on freedom and the country itself" but also "an attack on humanity."