- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — Grief-stricken members of Congress paid tribute Wednesday to the victims of the Tucson shooting rampage amid consultations with security advisers on how they can protect themselves and their aides against such savage attacks.

Still deeply shaken from Saturday’s violence half a continent away, House Speaker John A. Boehner fought tears as he spoke of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords‘ battle to recover from a gunshot wound to the head.

“Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not,” Mr. Boehner said, as the House postponed its debate over repealing President Obama’s health care overhaul. Lawmakers chose instead to take up a resolution saluting victims of the massacre. It was expected to pass by voice vote later Wednesday.

The House, according to the resolution, “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.”

“We will have the last word,” Mr. Boehner declared before the House paused for a private prayer service.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, whose husband was killed and son seriously wounded in the 1993 shooting on the Long Island railroad, said of the rampage, “It’s so parallel, it’s scary.”

“I say to all of you, time will heal you,” Mrs. McCarthy said on the House floor. She added that Mrs. Giffords would be proud of the members of the House. “She has brought this chamber together. It’s just a shame that a tragedy had to bring us together.”

Mr. Obama and a bipartisan delegation were flying to Arizona to attend a prayer service for the victims.

The shooting of a colleague as she met with her constituents underscored for many lawmakers and their staffs the vulnerability inherent in their jobs. As Mrs. Giffords conducted a “Congress on Your Corner” event in a shopping center parking lot Saturday, a gunman shot her in the head and worked his way down the line of people waiting to talk with her, law enforcement officials said.

The attack ended when bystanders tackled the man, Jared Lee Loughner, 22. Nineteen people were shot, including six who died.

Among the dead: Mrs. Giffords‘ community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman. Mr. Boehner’s voice cracked Wednesday when he referred to the slain aide as “a public servant of the highest caliber.”

“To all the dedicated professionals that we rely on to make this institution work, to each of you, thank you for what you do,” Mr. Boehner said.

Lawmakers emerging from a security briefing in Washington expressed greater concern for their aides in state offices than themselves in the heavily secured Capitol complex. “They’ve created a fortress up here,” said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat. “Our government at the district level is vulnerable.”

Republicans leaving a briefing with House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood said that he offered practical security advice, such as coordinating with local authorities when they have public events.

Lawmakers have proposed their own ideas. Several Democrats are pushing to roll back the recent 5 percent cut in budgets for individual House members, a fiscally driven move by the new Republican leadership. Others have talked about more stringent gun control legislation. Yet Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the chances of those bills passing in the GOP-controlled House were “virtually none.”

Others have said they would arm themselves. Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Democrat, said, “I wish there was one more gun that day in the hands of a responsible person.”

Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

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