Shooting of Rep. Giffords Pauses Partisan Rhetoric in Washington

BY David Chalian  January 10, 2011 at 8:30 AM EST

The American flag flies at half-staff

The flag flies at half-staff outside the Capitol in memory of the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Arizona that killed six people, including a federal judge, and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

A week that looked to be full of heated partisan rhetoric as Republicans work to repeal the health care reform law will instead have a much more subdued tone. Just a few hours after the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that the health care debate will be postponed and the only legislative action on the House floor this week would be directly related to the aftermath of Saturday’s rampage. On Wednesday, the House is expected to pass a resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the six people who lost their lives and the other victims.

President Obama has called for a national moment of silence at 11 a.m. ET. Monday (more on that below).

For the most part, partisan politics in Washington seemed to disappear as quickly as suspect Jared Loughner stopped firing his gun into the crowd.

In that vein, more than 800 members of Congress, their spouses and staff gathered on a conference call Sunday afternoon. According to congressional sources on the call, House Speaker John Boehner thanked the Republican conference and Democratic caucus chairmen for organizing the call in bipartisan fashion. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also spoke, noting the history of a bipartisan approach to security matters.

“I sensed a moment that I hadn’t for a long time where neither party was looking to take political advantage, but just responding to this as they should and that was very refreshing,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday morning.

As for partisan activists online, however, the heated rhetoric didn’t seem to dissipate. Many on the left called attention to Sarah Palin’s PAC depicting targeted congressional districts (of which Rep. Gifford’s district was one) with the cross-hairs of a gun sight. That, of course, brought on a spate of stories despite their being no apparent connection whatsoever between Loughner and Palin.

From the New York Times’ story by Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg:

“I don’t understand how anybody can be held responsible for somebody who is completely mentally unstable like this,” an adviser to Ms. Palin, Rebecca Mansour, said in an interview with a conservative radio host, Tammy Bruce. Responding to accusatory messages on the Web, Ms. Mansour added: “People actually accuse Governor Palin of this. It’s appalling — appalling. I can’t actually express how disgusting that is.”

This narrative is inevitable in the current media climate obsessed with all things related to the former Alaska governor. But this moment in American politics will certainly go beyond Palin, as lawmakers in both parties have spent the weekend talking about the need to tone down some of the intense political speech without diminishing the ongoing ideological debates of the day.

OBAMA’S MOMENT

Before the shock of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson had fully set in, a national conversation broke out about the state of the country’s political discourse and to what extent it could have contributed to the horrific act of violence that saw six people killed and more than a dozen wounded.

One voice absent from this particular discussion so far is President Obama’s, although the question now appears to be not whether he will address the matter, but when and how he will choose to do so. It was Mr. Obama, after all, who pledged during the 2008 campaign to change the way Washington works by bringing politics to a higher level of civility.

In his remarks Saturday, before many of the details of the rampage were known, the president looked to console and reassure, calling on Americans “to come together and support each other” and promising, “We are going to get to the bottom of this, and we are going to get through this.”

The president and first lady Michelle Obama will observe a moment of silence Monday at the White House to honor the victims.

As he prepares to lead a nationwide reflection on the tragedy, reporters, pundits, lawmakers and citizens are all wondering what the president will say next. In Monday’s edition of POLITICO, Glenn Thrush and Carol E. Lee write that the shooting presents “a critical opportunity to a president at a crossroads, a chance for Obama to elevate the debased tenor of politics, much as President Bill Clinton attempted in the aftermath of the 1995 terrorist attack in Oklahoma City.”

Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, meanwhile, report that “Mr. Obama was considering delivering a speech about the greater context surrounding the shooting, but advisers said it was premature to do so until Ms. Giffords’s condition stabilized and more became known about the gunman’s motives.”

“The shooting could also become a theme of the State of the Union address,” Zeleny and Rutenberg note, which the president is scheduled to give on Jan. 25.

At this moment, however, the president has a captive nation and a chance to reinvigorate his call for a less argumentative political culture, if he can summon the right words.

POLL POSITION

In other news, nobody in the potential Republican presidential field is more recognizable than Palin. No surprise there. And, apparently, nobody in the field is thought of more favorably than former presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

These latest findings come from the Gallup organization in its most recent testing of the potential candidates among Republican voters.

“Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are also widely recognized by Republicans, and have favorability numbers similar to Palin’s,” writes Frank Newport of Gallup.

And as a reminder to how few Republican voters are paying attention to all the inside baseball surrounding the 2012-ers, Sen. John Thune, Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Rep. Mike Pence, all remain largely unknown quantities.

But it’s clearly not too early for some resume building before the race begins in earnest. From Romney’s Free & Strong America PAC:

“Governor Romney left Friday, January 7 for a one-week trip to Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. He has a series of high-level meetings scheduled, including with President Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and King Abdullah II of Jordan. The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Governor Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world.”

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