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Freshmen, Families Are Facing New Fears

File Photo
Uniformed and plainclothes Capitol Police officers provide security for arriving Members-elect during freshman orientation week in November.

Leadership hasn’t offered specific guidance to freshmen, though a bipartisan conference call Sunday provided Members, spouses and staff an opportunity to ask questions about security measures and listen to the advice of House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood. House Members are scheduled to receive a fuller security briefing this afternoon.

“We have a number of new Members who know nothing about this. This is their first experience,” Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said after Sunday’s call. “It’s very difficult on spouses especially, people who are away and don’t understand what can happen here.”

Staffers are finding themselves caught between their own fears and the desire to keep doing the job.

One Democratic aide felt the chill of vulnerability after Giffords was shot, noting, “It could have been any one of our bosses.” Some attended a vigil at the base of the Capitol on Saturday night to honor Giffords and show support for her staff, and countless others grieved over drinks when they returned to work Monday.

“I think it really has shaken up a lot of people,” a Senate Democratic aide said. “I’ve had a ton of conversations with a lot of people around here that feel terrible for her staff and have seen how vulnerable we all are. We’ve all done these large public events, and this just points out how vulnerable people are.”

But aides do not want to close themselves off to constituents or limit the access of their bosses to the public. An aide to a freshman Republican said his office was considering whether to restructure town hall-style events, perhaps by inviting smaller groups and staging a check-in area at the door.

Some also fear a stigma will be attached to any Congressional event in the wake of the Tucson tragedy. Freshman Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), who was beginning to plan her own “Congress on Your Corner” events, said all those gatherings are now being reconsidered.

“I’m now looking [at] whether the constituents are going to feel like they don’t want to be exposed to us until some of this really dies down,” said Hanabusa, who is one of nine new Democratic lawmakers.

Several other freshman lawmakers told Roll Call they intend to continue their public events.

Freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said his staff will coordinate public events with Capitol Police and local law enforcement when planning town halls and public events to ensure safety.

“It’s my job to listen to their concerns on issues Wisconsin and our nation are facing,” he said. “I plan to continue to do just that.”

Some Republican aides are also re-evaluating the rhetoric they use while the political parties have suspended many activities this week in the wake of the tragedy.

“I think anyone would be lying if they said we didn’t think about things like that,” a GOP strategist said.

Rep. Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has been criticized by Democrats for his fiery rhetoric and violent metaphors, told the Sun Sentinel that he is not going to tone down his language.

But he acknowledged that his own family was deeply affected by the attack.

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