Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought Thursday to tamp down partisan tensions stoked by death threats and vandalism aimed at House Democrats in the wake of the health care vote — and the debate over whether Republican counterparts have encouraged the behavior.
At the end of an ugly week that featured bricks thrown through district office windows and threats against lawmakers and their families, Pelosi warned against letting bad actors define the opposition. “All who participated in the free expression should not be painted with the same brush as those who have resorted to such unacceptable language and acts of vandalism,” she said. And Pelosi underlined the importance of free expression and open debate. “That’s the strength of our country,” she told reporters at her weekly press conference.
A day after House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) appeared on MSNBC and accused Republicans of “aiding and abetting this kind of terrorism,” Pelosi said she doesn’t “subscribe to the fact that these acts of vandalism sprang from any words of my colleagues.”
But she also offered an indirect admonishment to Republican leaders. “I believe that words have power. They weigh a ton,” she said. “And they are received differently by people depending on their, shall we say, emotional state, and we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject.”
Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), held similar press briefings Thursday to denounce the threats and violent actions. Cantor in particular sought to turn the tables back on Democrats, accusing them of stoking the flames by accusing Republicans of being somewhat responsible.
The California Democrat chided House Republicans for cheering Sunday when two anti-reform protesters disrupted floor proceedings from the visitors gallery. “That’s different from saying that it provoked it,” she said. “But we have to manage this issue very carefully, recognizing we are a democracy, we don’t want to stifle debate or free expression of it, but to understand our leadership role, the responsibility we have to be an example in how we express our differences and understand the impact our words have on others.”