Members Wary of Attacks at Home

Posted March 26, 2010 at 5:38pm

Now that they’ve headed home for the two-week Easter break, Members of Congress are facing a menacing environment in the wake of the passage of the health care overhaul. Vandalism and death threats have prompted lawmakers to take precautions and call for calm even as GOP and Democratic leaders trade barbs over who is to blame for the nastiness.

What started with racial and anti-gay epithets shouted by tea party protesters at a few Democratic lawmakers before the health care vote two weekends ago quickly escalated, with the cutting of a gas line last week at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-Va.) brother after his address was posted on a tea party blog. A letter containing white powder was later sent to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) district office, and about a dozen Democrats reported getting threats against them or bricks thrown through office windows.

“It’s pretty scary,” said House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who had a brick thrown through her district office and a death threat referencing 16 sniper teams planning to take out the children of Members of Congress.

“I never thought after all the things that we’ve been through with civil rights and decency here that we would see what we saw here [last] weekend. And what I’m worried about, and I need to say it again, it’s the same as the tea party thing last summer, I was scared to death somebody was going to get shot to death.”

Democrats beat up Republicans for days, arguing they were dangerously fanning the flames of hate with super-heated rhetoric, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s (R-Texas) shout of “baby killer” in the House chamber and Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) quote that Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) could be a “dead man” politically if he voted for the bill.

The threats prompted a security briefing for rattled Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, and staff held a security webinar Thursday. Some Democratic Members, including Driehaus, have complained about plans by tea party activists to protest at their homes during recess, and some have received additional protection from local police.

A few Republicans also reported getting death threats, including Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.).

Republican leaders spoke out against violence and threats and tried to turn the tables.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Boehner condemned violence and threats at back-to-back news conferences Thursday, with Boehner urging people angry about the health care bill to channel that anger into political action instead.

[IMGCAP(1)]Cantor said a bullet hit a window at his campaign office in Richmond, although Richmond police said Friday that the bullet was merely “a stray bullet as a result of random gunfire.”

Cantor also charged some Democrats with “fanning the flames” by trying to use the violence and threats against them as a “political weapon,” exclaiming “enough is enough” before abruptly ending his three-minute press conference without taking questions.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to downplay the partisan divide while urging people to be careful with their words.

“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.

But the ugliness and vitriol inside and outside the Capitol and in fundraising appeals also appeared to be fraying the normally cordial behind-the-scenes relations across the aisle.

It even disrupted the bipartisan Congressional Prayer Breakfast, with some Democrats walking out or boycotting last week’s event after Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) invited Neugebauer to speak. Reps. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) ripped Akin for politicizing the breakfast, which is normally a rare nonpartisan sanctuary from politics for lawmakers, although Akin contended he did not know that Neugebauer had been the one to shout “baby killer” when he invited him to speak and said he was prepared to invite someone else if Democrats insisted that he do so.

Democrats were particularly peeved that Neugebauer cut a YouTube video and advertised on Google to cash in on his outburst hours after he released a statement apologizing for it.

Democrats also complained about the Republican National Committee holding an online fundraiser featuring Pelosi superimposed on a background of flames.

The “Fire Nancy Pelosi” fundraiser prompted a counterattack Friday from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which sent out a fundraising appeal of its own from James Carville calling out the “slimy thugs at the RNC.”

“We will not be intimidated by the lies, distortions and hate spewing venom from the mouths of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner and the other Republican gas bags,” Carville wrote.

Republicans fired back.

“Does any of the hate-filled rhetoric in this Democratic fundraising e-mail change the fact that most Americans don’t like the jobs-killing health care takeover?” said Don Seymour, a Boehner spokesman.