Republicans in Congress eager to vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care law face a delicate task in tempering their rhetoric after the Arizona shooting rampage that killed six people and critically injured U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
House Republicans delayed a vote planned for tomorrow on rolling back the health-care overhaul while Giffords, a 40-year-old Democrat, is being treated in a Tucson hospital. When they turn back to the health law Republicans will focus on moderating their tone, strategists said, in contrast with some lawmakers’ stronger language from last year’s campaign.
“There’s going to be a natural cautiousness,” said pollster David Winston, who advises House Republican leaders. “Members are thinking through how they can have an effective debate without it being disagreeable.”
House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman said yesterday the Ohio Republican’s priority is to keep the discourse steady and civil.
“This terrible tragedy requires that congressional leaders act in a responsible, nonpartisan way on behalf of members, staff, the institution, and most of all, the American people,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Investigators are analyzing the writings and activities of shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner for clues to a motive. No evidence has surfaced linking him to any political group or specific policy issue. Authorities said they found an envelope at his home that bore Giffords’s name, the words “my assassination” and what appeared to be Loughner’s signature.
Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and other heroes of the Tea Party movement, a loose-knit national group pressing for smaller government and less taxes, said the tragedy shouldn’t be used to tar them or their politics.
At least 28 of the 63 House seats picked up by Republicans in the Nov. 2 elections in which they gained control of the chamber were won with Tea Party support, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Members of the group gained attention in 2009 by attending town-hall meetings and in some cases attempting to drown out Democratic members of Congress as they sought to explain the health-care proposal. House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland was shouted down in August 2009 at a press conference in Utica, New York, by protesters who carried a sign that said, “Ft. Stanwix Tea Party Patriots.”
Limbaugh yesterday accused Democrats of trying to use the Arizona shootings to “revitalize their political fortunes.” The party “openly wishes for such disaster in order to profit from it,” he said on his radio show.
Strong rhetoric has come from both parties. Former Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat who was defeated in November, angered Republicans when he said in 2009 that their health-care plan was for people to “die quickly.”
In Arizona, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a Democrat whose jurisdiction includes Tucson, said after the shootings that vitriolic rhetoric in the U.S. has “gotten out of control.”
Much of the rhetoric was sparked by the health-care law, enacted by Congress in March 2010 as the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda. The $940 billion plan, pushed through Congress with no Republican support, aims to provide coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans. Republicans have derided it as a “job-killing” measure that will burden businesses. Some opponents call it part of an agenda of socialism they say Obama is trying to impose on the country.
“Hell, no!” chanted Boehner, then minority leader, on the House floor last year as he assailed the bill and the process Democrats used to advance it.
A window was shattered at Giffords’s Tucson office last year after she voted for the health-care overhaul. While the new Republican House majority has enough votes to pass a repeal of the law, the Democrats who control the Senate say they will block it in their chamber.
Even before the Jan. 8 attack in Tucson, Republicans recognized that they needed to focus more on “votes than quotes” this year in working to repeal or revise the health-care law, said Republican strategist John Feehery, a top aide to former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
In postponing this week’s vote, “Boehner made the adult judgment to say, ‘We’re going to hold off on this,’ because he wants tempers to cool,” said Feehery. “The system can only bear so much emotion.”
Hours before she was shot, Giffords made her own case to a friend for a more measured political tone. “We need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down,” she said in an e-mail to Trey Grayson, a Kentucky Republican who lost to new Senator Rand Paul in their party’s primary race last year.
‘Struggled’ as Centrist
Giffords “struggled” as a centrist in a polarized Congress, Grayson said in an interview.
The Tea Party Express said yesterday it wouldn’t be “silenced” by the reaction to the rampage.
“Liberals are trying to exploit this shooting for their own political benefit, and they used deception and dishonesty to try and smear all of us and our beliefs,” the organization said in a statement that concluded with a fundraising plea.
“Jared Lee Loughner is to blame. Period,” Fox News commentator Glenn Beck wrote on his website. He defended former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate who has been criticized for a campaign-season Web posting of a map that pictured Giffords’s congressional district, among others, marked with the crosshair symbols for a rifle scope.
The day before the shootings, as the House debated rules for the health-care debate, Republican Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia portrayed the repeal drive as a David-versus-Goliath battle, with Republicans as David.
“He hit that giant right between the eyes, brought him to his knees, and then cut off the head of the snake,” Gingrey said.