Updated at 9:55 a.m. on January 10.
Republicans and Democrats are abandoning partisanship -- for now. Saturday’s massacre by a gunman in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., means that House members will spend the coming week making floor tributes to Giffords and discussing, in the most respectful way, how to better ensure that they and their families and staffs are safe inside the Capitol and also in their home districts. The Senate is in recess.
President Obama also has called for a moment of silence Monday and issued a proclamation in honor of the victims.
Some 800 House lawmakers, spouses, and staffers were on a conference call Sunday to review the status of Giffords, who remains in critical condition, and to discuss security-related issues. Giffords’s chief of staff, Pia Carusone, was on the call, as was House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood; Phil Morse, chief of the Capitol Police; and Giffords’s attending physicians.
It’s no small matter inviting staffers and family members into conversations that under less dire circumstances would include just the elected officials. It’s also unusual that Republicans and Democrats jointly convene those discussions. The caucuses typically meet separately. But several members noted Sunday that political violence like the Tucson shooting doesn’t just hurt the public figures. It also can harm family, friends, employees, and simple innocent bystanders.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson likened the moment to the spontaneous outbreak of “God Bless America” that occurred on the steps of the U.S. Capitol after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Hopefully, camaraderie will ensue in a way that we’re all in this together,” Larson said.
There was nothing but praise about House Speaker John Boehner coming from Larson, who spoke to reporters after Sunday’s call. “Hopefully this carries with it, this moment of tragedy can carry with it a step forward towards a more enlightened way, and the Speaker has been extraordinary in setting the right tone for that,” he said.
House leaders will place a resolution on the floor Wednesday honoring Giffords, as well as others who were wounded or died in the tragedy, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and Gabe Zimmerman, a member of Giffords's staff. Out of respect for the Arizona members of Congress, who are likely to remain in their districts this week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is asking House lawmakers to agree to the resolution on a voice vote so that absent representatives won’t be recorded as such.
The “unanimous consent” agreement on which the House is currently running shows the shift toward camaraderie that has caused lawmakers to lay aside their differences, most notably on the President Obama’s health care law, which GOP leaders want to repeal. Any single member can thwart the agreement by raising a point of order or calling for a vote on the floor, but that kind of nose-thumbing is unlikely to happen given the grave mood inside the Capitol after the shootings.
Among the shell-shocked are the new members of Congress, some of whom haven’t had a chance to hire staff to handle routine items like evacuation procedures or security details in Washington and at home, Larson said. All members are being encouraged to coordinate with local law enforcement officials during public events, and the Capitol Police are fielding hundreds of questions about security inside the Capitol complex.
It remains to be seen whether the comity expressed in the wake of the Arizona shooting will continue as lawmakers return to their regularly scheduled program -- debating issues like health care and the debt ceiling on which there are profound disagreements.
House Republicans say they are still planning on holding their previously scheduled annual policy retreat, set this year for Thursday and Friday in Baltimore, although the topics may vary from those originally planned. “At this time, we fully expect the issue retreat to proceed as scheduled,” said Dee Buchanan, staff director for the House Republican Conference.
Billy House contributed