Fear Rattles Hill as Recess Nears
Democrats Urge GOP to Denounce Extremism
A spike in security threats in the wake of the House health care vote continued to rattle Democratic Members on Wednesday, with several accusing Republican leaders of stoking an already incendiary environment.
More than 10 House Democrats have alerted leaders to abuse or threats since the Sunday vote, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), adding that any lawmakers at risk are “getting attention from the proper authorities.” Federal law enforcement was reportedly investigating threats to at least two lawmakers.
The No. 2 House Democrat suggested Wednesday that GOP leaders could be doing more to tamp down the fervor of some
anti-reform activists. “I would hope that we would join together jointly and make it very clear that none of us condone this kind of activity, and when we see it, that we speak out strongly in opposition to it,” he said. “I would hope that we would do that going forward.”
Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), appearing on MSNBC, accused Republicans of “aiding and abetting this kind of terrorism.”
But GOP leaders defended their record as they offered fresh denunciations of violent threats. “It is not the American way,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Fox News. “Yes, I know there is anger, but let’s take that anger and go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, and let’s do it the right way.”
And his deputy, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said party leaders have acted responsibly to disavow extreme reactions to the health care reform overhaul. “I’ve already said that no one defends that kind of behavior, and we should not have that kind of behavior,” Cantor told Roll Call. “We are a civil country, expecting civil discourse. When you engage in racial epithets, when you engage in violence, no one defends that.”
The back-and-forth came as threats to House Democrats continued to pile up.
Authorities are investigating the cutting of a gas line to a grill at Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-Va.) brother’s house on Tuesday, the lawmaker’s office confirmed Wednesday. The incident came after a tea party organizer posted the home address of the lawmaker’s brother on a blog, believing it was Perriello’s, and encouraging tea party activists to “drop by.”
Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) had their district offices vandalized. Slaughter, the Rules Committee chairwoman, was much maligned during the health care debate as the architect of the “Slaughter solution,” or the Democratic leaders’ proposal that, if employed, would have allowed Members to avoid a separate vote on the Senate health care bill. Slaughter said a voice mail “referencing snipers” was left on the answering machine at her campaign office.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), an anti-abortion advocate who helped broker a compromise on the matter in the overhaul, reported receiving death threats — as did freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio).
Clyburn said that he got a handwritten fax scrawled with a racial slur and a drawing of a noose and that his wife has received threatening phone calls. “This worries me about as much as where the next meal is going to come from,” Clyburn said, though he added that he was concerned about other Democrats.
House Democrats got a briefing on the threats Wednesday from the FBI, the House Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol Police. On the Senate side, Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer issued a memo Wednesday warning Senators and staff to be vigilant during the upcoming recess.
Members are set to leave town later this week for a two-week break, a period that Members typically use to hold constituent forums and town halls. Those events, however, have turned ugly in the past — particularly last August when they served as platforms for sometimes-violent protests.
Several Democrats accused Republican leaders of fostering the hostile atmosphere surrounding passage of the health care measure.
Driehaus, for example, said Boehner and other Republican leaders were “fanning the flames” of angry protesters across the country and potentially endangering Members of Congress. Along with fellow freshman Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio), Driehaus confronted Boehner on the House floor Tuesday after Boehner was quoted in the National Review saying Driehaus “may be a dead man” politically if he voted for the health care bill.
“These words have meaning, and it’s not so much how I take their words, or how they might be intended by these so-called leaders, but it’s how the craziest person out there might see it as an invitation to engage in violent behavior against a Member of Congress,” Driehaus said Wednesday.
Don Seymour, a spokesman for Boehner, said Tuesday that his boss “does not condone violence and his remark was obviously not meant to be taken literally.”
But Driehaus said the language being used by Republicans in the health care debate, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s (Texas) yelling of “baby killer” Sunday night, was “inexcusable.”
“They continue to damage the institution,” he said.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish and was an ardent supporter of health care reform, said Republican leaders need to say, “Enough is enough.”
Weiner received anti-Semitic letters during the final days of debate on the package, his office confirmed Wednesday. One of the notes was signed with a swastika and another addressed the Congressman as “Shlomo,” a common Hebrew variant of Solomon that is sometimes used as a derogatory term for Jews.
“When Members of Congress cheer hecklers in the House Gallery, when a Republican Member of Congress yells baby killer’ at a colleague, when angry racist, homophobic mobs are egged on by Republican Members of Congress, all without repudiation by the leaders of their party, one has to ask whether these outbursts are spontaneity or strategy,” Weiner said in a statement.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon who was the target of a shouted racial epithet during tea party protests on the Capitol grounds over the weekend, said the GOP was complicit in creating a toxic environment. He cited Republicans engaging with the crowd from the balcony off the Speaker’s Lobby — and Neugebauer’s outburst.
“There should be an appeal for people to end the threatening telephone calls and mail, e-mails, letters to people’s offices and people’s homes,” Lewis said. “Words can be hurtful and dangerous and can inspire people to do dangerous things. Somehow we need to lower the rhetoric.”
Lewis said he’s worried “a great deal” about the prospects of violence. “How do you turn it off? How do you put a stop to it?”
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.