The House opened debate today on a resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of the Arizona shooting rampage, as lawmakers rallied together to condemn the attack.
The resolution condemns “in the strongest possible terms the horrific attack” and praises the “bravery and quick thinking exhibited by those individuals who prevented the gunman from potentially taking more lives.”
“Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not,” said House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “This is a time for the House to lock arms in prayer for the fallen and wounded and resolve to carry on a dialogue for democracy.”
The resolution honors the service of Giffords, 40, noting that the Democratic lawmaker recited the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of the public to peaceably assemble, as lawmakers read the U.S. Constitution on the House floor Jan. 6.
“As she recovers, we honor her as a brilliant and courageous member of Congress,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
Even as lawmakers struck a somber tone and joined together to mourn, signs of partisanship were evident.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, said an FBI official who spoke today at a closed-door security briefing for lawmakers “stonewalled” attempts to learn about the personality and political beliefs of shooting suspect Jared Loughner, saying that could jeopardize the investigation and prospective prosecution.
Gohmert suggested the evasiveness was designed to insulate President Barack Obama’s political base.
“It may be that if the things that we’re reading — that he’s a liberal, hates the flag, supports Marx, that type of thing, turn out to be true, then it may be embarrassing to some of the current administration’s constituents, and, heaven help us, we wouldn’t want to embarrass any of the president’s constituents,” Gohmert said.
Law enforcement officials, including the U.S. Capitol Police, briefed House Republicans during the private session about taking precautions in their official duties and at home following the Jan. 8 shooting near Tucson at a constituent meeting Giffords was conducting outside a grocery store.
House Democrats were briefed on the security issues at their own session.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, said authorities asked lawmakers to designate a local coordinator in their district offices who could act as a point person in the event of a coordinated attack on elected officials.
Some lawmakers said their biggest concern was for staff members in their home districts who work in buildings that have no security protection, unlike offices in Washington.
Giffords, first elected to her seat in 2006, was critically injured when she was shot through the head while hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event. Six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Green, and Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman. The congresswoman is in a Tucson hospital’s intensive-care unit. Thirteen others were injured in the attack.
Loughner, 22, was arrested at the scene and faces five federal charges including murder and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress.
“It appears to be a random act,” Rep. Sean Duffy, a first-term Wisconsin Republican, said to reporters after the security briefing. “We see random acts of violence continuously throughout the country, and we have to use some caution just like any other citizen does, so I don’t feel much of a threat.”
Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, used her floor remarks on the resolution to urge Congress to restrict access to assault weapons and extended magazine clips. A federal ban on the sale of assault weapons expired in 2004 and wasn’t renewed by lawmakers.
“We should revisit sensible federal laws to control access to guns and ammunition,” she said.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, of New York and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, both Democrats, are planning to introduce legislation banning gun magazines that feed more than 10 rounds at a time.
Loughner allegedly used an extended magazine clip in the attack.
The resolution before lawmakers says that the House “stands firm in its belief in a democracy in which all can participate and in which intimidation and threats of violence cannot silence the voices of any American.”
Members and their spouses also were joining a bipartisan prayer service today.
The House suspended other legislative business scheduled for this week after the shootings. The chamber had planned to vote today on Republicans’ proposed repeal of Obama’s healthcare overhaul. That vote will be rescheduled for another date.
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