A somber and bipartisan shadow enveloped the House on Wednesday as members gathered in support of one of their own on the first work day since the attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last weekend.
Putting all other legislative business on hold, lawmakers spoke throughout the day in support of a resolution condemning the Saturday shooting rampage in Tucson that left six dead and 14 injured, including the third-term Democratic lawmaker. The only break in the day's official business was for an afternoon closed-door prayer service for the victims, attended by about 175 House members, former members and about 20 of the congresswoman's staffers.
Members were united in condemning the attack and offering effusive praise for the popular Mrs. Giffords. A few also referred obliquely to the debate that has erupted since the shooting over whether angry partisan rhetoric had somehow helped sparked the attack.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, the first of dozens of members to speak in favor of the resolution, struggled to maintain his composure as he acknowledged that the House "has yet to fully register the magnitude of this tragedy."
"The needs of this institution have always risen above partisanship, and what this institution needs right now is strength - holy and uplifting strength - the strength to grieve with the families of the fallen, to pray for the wounded and to chart a way forward, no matter how painful and difficult it may be," he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said it was important to honor those who helped subdue the suspected gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, before he killed or maimed more, as well as to remember the victims.
"Political disagreement and dissent must never violate our nation's values as expressed in the Constitution - of free expression, speech and peaceful assembly," she said.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, was one of the first speakers to raise the question of the tenor of political debate and anti-government rhetoric, calling on lawmakers to "temper our words and respect those with whom we disagree."
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the New York Democrat whose husband was killed in a shooting incident before she ran for Congress, was more blunt.
"Words matter. And those who use inflammatory rhetoric to achieve cheap political gain wound our country and weaken the ties that bind us," she said.
Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence decried personal attacks, but said the shooting should not be used as an excuse to curb free and frank debate.
"No opinion expressed by left or right was to blame for Saturday's attack," he said "[EnLeader]We must resist efforts to suggest otherwise."
While praising Mrs. Giffords as a friend and colleague, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican and one of the chamber's most conservative members, defended the legitimacy of vigorous, at times even rough language in political debate.
"This is no time for assigning blame to anyone but the gunman," Mr. Gohmert said.
The debate on the resolution condemning the Tucson attack continued into Wednesday evening.
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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