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Sen. Bernie Sanders is the latest to attract sharp criticism for using the weekend Arizona shootings for political purposes.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee widely distributed news, first published by the Weekly Standard today, that the Vermont Independent referenced the gruesome attacks in a fundraising appeal sent to supporters Tuesday afternoon.
“Given the recent tragedy in Arizona, as well as the start of the new Congress, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few words with political friends in Vermont and throughout the country,” Sanders wrote in the e-mail. “I also want to thank the very many supporters who have begun contributing online to my 2012 reelection campaign at www.bernie.org. There is no question but that the Republican Party, big money corporate interests and right-wing organizations will vigorously oppose me. Your financial support now and in the future is much appreciated.”
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh sent the Weekly Standard article in an e-mail blast to media outlets. The subject line of his e-mail was “No comment...”.
And while there has largely been a political cease-fire on Capitol Hill so far this week, inflammatory rhetoric had filled the national airwaves and partisan websites even before news of Sanders’ e-mail surfaced.
On Monday, the Tea Party Express began a fundraising effort to ask supporters to help it fight “liberals” who are attempting to link their movement to the events in Arizona. Tuesday, it followed that up with a new appeal to “stand with Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh + Tea Party.” Tea Party Express officials asked supporters to give as little as $5 to “fight back.”
“We want to have our largest fundraising day in the history of our organization and we need your help to achieve this success,” they wrote.
Limbaugh, a conservative talk radio host, said Monday that the Democratic Party is “a party that seeks to profit out of murder.” He added that the political left “openly wishes for such disaster in order to profit from it.”
Sanders is an Independent who caucuses with Democrats. He made headlines during the lame-duck session for launching a one-man filibuster in protest of an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts ultimately accepted by Democratic leaders.
In today’s fundraising e-mail, Sanders noted that the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is one of several violent acts against Democrats.
“What should be understood is that the violence, and threats of violence against Democrats in Arizona, was not limited to Gabrielle Giffords,” Sanders wrote. “Raul Grijalva, an old friend of mine and one of the most progressive members in the House, was forced to close his district office this summer when someone shot a bullet through his office window. Another Democratic elected official in Arizona, recently defeated Congressman Harry Mitchell, suspended town meetings in his district because of the threatening phone calls that he received (Mitchell was also in the cross-hairs on the Palin map). And Judge John Roll, who was shot to death at the Giffords event, had received numerous threatening calls and death threats in 2009.
“In light of all of this violence — both actual and threatened — is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process? Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions?”
In an interview Monday on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Grijalva decried Arizona’s relaxed gun laws for feeding an atmosphere of fear. Further illustrating his point, he noted a Facebook posting made by a border patrol activist in Arizona that indicated not everyone was reacting in disgust to the Giffords shooting.
“Right in the aftermath of this tragedy, somebody who is famous for their anti-immigrant and gun issues posted a comment that said it’s too bad it wasn’t Grijalva,” the Democrat said.
Meanwhile, other elected officials seized on the weekend tragedy as justification for improved gun safety laws.
A bipartisan group that included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) on Tuesday outlined steps to help “keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and other dangerous persons.”
“Just as we saw after Virginia Tech, the Arizona tragedy has once again exposed fatal cracks in our background check system,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “The law says that drug abusers can’t buy guns, but even though [shooting suspect] Jared Loughner was rejected by the military for drug use and arrested on drug charges, he was able to pass a background check and buy a gun. It should be clear to everyone that the system is broken and it is time for our leaders in Washington to step up and fix it.”
Kyle Trygstad contributed to this report.