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Quiet Descends on Capitol as Washington Copes With Tragedy

Flags flew at half-staff atop the Capitol building Sunday, the only visible sign of change following the horrific Arizona shooting that killed six and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in critical condition.

Capitol Police officers patrolled at their regular pace. The press galleries, which normally would be overflowing during such a busy news cycle, were shuttered for the weekend. A few staff members passed through the halls, presumably catching up on work left from the week prior, and maintenance crews milled about on routine projects.

The quiet in the Capitol stood in stark contrast to the bustling activity of just a few days before, when Members returned to Washington for the opening of the 112th Congress and were gearing up for a busy work stretch led by the new Republican majority in the House. By Sunday afternoon, the upcoming week’s schedule for the House had been wiped out and replaced with consideration of a resolution honoring Giffords and the victims of Saturday’s shooting.

“Certainly the mood is one of somber, and I think the best term is when something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us and it spreads across,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), one of a handful of Members to visit Giffords’ office in the Longworth House Office Building over the weekend.

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) expressed the same sentiment when he visited Giffords’ office Saturday afternoon, just hours after the Congresswoman was shot, armed with food for grieving staff members. Giffords’ outreach coordinator, 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, was among the six people killed Saturday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims but especially, for my part, Gabby, who I consider a very close friend of mine in the House,” Crowley said Saturday. “We were friends even before she was elected. She’s a remarkable woman.”

Giffords’ staff members, whom Crowley described as “somber,” huddled behind the doors at 1030 Longworth and away from the few reporters who lingered outside. On Sunday morning, a stack of pizza boxes in the hall set Giffords’ office apart from the others. By midmorning, the boxes, as well as flowers that supporters left Saturday, were gone.

The office of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), located next to Giffords’, was the only one in the neat row on the ground level of Longworth to display any public sign of grieving. “May God Bless Gabby Giffords and all her staff,” read a sign on Chaffetz’s door.

Larson, a seven-term Member, used his time roaming the halls Sunday to reflect on past events that have rocked the Capitol, including the anthrax scare in 2001 and the confrontational town halls that occurred during last summer’s health care debate. He said none has hit closer to home than the shooting of Giffords.

Nearly 40 people gathered for a vigil outside the Capitol on Saturday night, and Larson said Members are drawing closer in the tragedy’s aftermath to support their colleague and one another.

“Gabrielle Giffords is a pretty extraordinary Member,” Larson said. “When someone engenders that kind of feeling amongst Members, I think there is just such a feeling of cooperation and graciousness. … It’s the kind of thing that shows Congress at its best, to be quite frank.”

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

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