Video: Vitriol in politics contributing to security threats?

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    >> congressman labrador, this is an introduction, horrible introduction to congress for you. you're a brand new member, freshman member from idaho. your wife, you were telling me before we started, was particularly shaken by this.

    >> she was. and, you know, first of all, my condolences to the families. it's been a terrible week. and it's a terrible end to the week. all i've heard about gabby -- and i don't know her. i'm the only person on this panel that doesn't know her. i've heard both from republicans and democrats what a wonderful woman she is and what great service she was giving to her constituents. i just want to make sure that we understand that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing and she was doing exactly what all of us should be doing, talking to our constituents and try to get educated on the issues. and i just hope we can have some civility and we can move forward.

    >> there are real security questions that have to be raised as a result of all of this, congresswoman. maxine waters telling politico this morning that she has her own fears about security for members. this is what she said. we can be shot down in our district but we can also be shot walking over to the capitol. we have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. we are vulnerable and there's no real way to protect us. is this a wake-up call in terms of thinking about security for these kinds of events?

    >> i think it needs to be a wake-up call for members who treat security in -- their own personal security in a cavalier way. i know when i had town hall meetings , which i had regularly, and very open public meetings, there are always officers present. not a cavalier of officers, but at least a show of law enforcement so that we can make sure that my staff is protected. because, remember, as we saw with mr. zimmerman's death, it's not just our personal safety that matters. it's also the personal safety of our constituents. then they come in and target the member, but the people in the room are all subject to a security risk . we need to strike a balance.

    >> you talk about that. the federal judge , john roll, who was also killed, congressman grijalva, you know him, a noted member of the bench, just 63 years old. a conservative republican , who was good friends, continues to be good friends with the congresswoman. he petitioned her for extra funds of the immigration cases they had to handle, went over to her event just to say hi and personally thank her and is dead this morning.

    >> john, the chief justice there in the district court , fair man. great reputation. been a litigator and prosecutor for 30-plus years in our community. was appointed by first george bush to that bench. has nothing but a good reputation. and for him to show up to thank gabby for her work in terms of getting additional resources for that overburdened court and to find himself and now his family to find him dead is the same comment debbie just made. how do you explain this? but it's a huge loss for the community, a judicial loss but also a loss of a leader in the community.

    >> certainly can't explain the loss of a young girl , born on 9/11, president of her student council . i want to talk about the political climate, congressman franks. the sheriff of pima county has been outspoken in some of his remarks, pima county encompassing tucson. he talked about what's been going on in southern arizona between immigration, health care debates and a political climate that's highly charged. this is what he had to say in response to this.

    >> we have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry. it is not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. that's a sad thing of what's going on in america. pretty soon we're not going to be able to find willing, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to public office .

    >> how concerned are you about the climate at home?

    >> i'm always concerned about how we treat each other in the ultimate analysis here, that's what this is all about. jared loughner had no respect for innocent human life and no respect for his fellow human beings . whatever his statement was, he was willing to kill someone, kill many people to make it. and, ultimately, i feel like we need to realize as members of congress , as americans that true tolerance is not pretending you have no differences. it's being kind and decent to each other in spite of those differences. when we allow people like this to go unnoticed, that have no respect for their fellow human beings , i think we make a terrible mistake. ultimately, if we don't have a more loving respect for each other, we really have no hope as a society.

    >> congressman cleaver, in a broader context, we don't know if this was politically motivated. we know this is a young man who felt -- this is just subjective facts here -- disturbed, became an outlier in some ways, lashed out, had been kicked out of community college , denied by the military. there are lots of things that can contribute to that sense of isolation and blaming of a lot of people. whether it was particularly anti-government, we can't say for sure. those are the compositive facts we have right now. political vitreal in our system, in our country, i want to have you react to it. the headline "turning point in discourse, but in which direction." he writes this, what's different about this moment is the emergence of a political culture on blogs and cable television that so loudly reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain. it wasn't clear saturday whether the alleged shooter in tucson was motivated by any real political issue or voices in his head or perhaps both, but it's hard not to think that he was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political armageddon.

    >> much of it begins in washington, d.c., and we export it across the country it to the point that people come to washington, they come to the gallery and they feel comfortable in shouting out insults from the gallery. we had someone removed last week, shouting out some insult about president obama 's birth. i think members of congress either need to turn down the volume -- again, to try to exercise some high level of civility -- or this darkness will never, ever be overcome with light. the hostility is here. people may want to deny it. it is real. and if we don't stop it soon, i think this nation is going to be bitter bitterly denied for, i fear, the future of our children.

    >> comment on that. a lot of sentiment in the tea party is to be very concerned about some of the government policies perceived by this president. how do you see the discourse being, in any way, a contribution to some of the security threats that members of congress can experience?

    >> we have to be careful not to blame one side or the other. both sides are guilty of this. you have extremes on both sides. you have crazy people on both sides. what i have done in idaho when we have some political rhetoric that is going beyond the pail, your job as the leader is to talk to people in a reasonable way, have a rational conversation with people in your district. and i think that brings down the level of rhetoric, quite a bit down. there are several things we have to do. the american people need to understand during the bush administration , we had a bunch of people on the left who were using the same kind of vitreal that people on the right are now using against president obama . it's not something that either party is guilty by themselves or either party is innocent of. we have to make sure that we take care of it.

    >> congressman grijalva in terms of congresswoman giffords herself, her office was vandalized in the heat of the health care debate. she joined us on "meet the press" and talked about the climate she was experiencing.

    >> our office corner has really become an area where the tea party movement congregates and the rhetoric is incredibly heated. this is a situation where people don't -- they really need to realize that rhetoric and firing people up and even things, for example, on sarah palin 's targeted list. we have the crosshairs of a gunfight over our district. will people do that? we've got to realize there are consequences to that action.

    >> i couldn't agree more with gabby's comments. part of what we need to do as leaders is a discourse. arizona's the epicenter of a lot of division and a lot of hard politics. from the top to the bottom of not only our elected leadership, but community. it's about the civil discourse, the tone of how we do things and congressman nagle said something on television yesterday, we are opponents, yes, but we are not deadly enemies. i think unless we pass that on and lead by example with our civil discourse and our good debate on these important issues like health care , people feel there is impunity to continue to act.

    >> that's a good point. there is a demonization. it happens amongst all of you, in the press, in the polls. whether it's a congressman saying "you lie" from the house floor or a ademocrat who literally shoots the cap and trade bill in a campaign advertisement or your former colleague, who compared republic republicans to the taliban. it does contribute to that demonization.

    >> we're a country that tries to solve our problems by ballots and not bullets. good debate is fine, but when you try to go into an area of threatening debate and things of that nature, it's very dangerous. i want to be very careful here. we don't want to give loughner too much credit here, to make it somehow politically analyze this, making a grand political statement . this guy was a deranged lunatic that completely rejkted any kind of constitutional foundation of this nation. when you consider some of his readings in the manifesto, more than anything else, it was bizarre, not politically --

    >> congresswoman?

    >> based on what trent just said and everyone else has said, i agree, it's our responsibility to make sure we set the right example and set the tone of civility. but the shock drop and political movement leaders on both sides need to have some pause as well. the phrase that you just used, we use ballots not bullets, the reverse of that phrase was used in my district by someone who was almost the chief of staff to an incoming member of congress that she said at a tea party rally, we will use bullets if ballots don't work. the rhetoric outside needs to be toned down as well. but we have to set the first example.

By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 1/9/2011 2:58:26 PM ET 2011-01-09T19:58:26

The reverberations of Saturday’s shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., rumbled through  Washington as shocked members of Congress focused on the state of the nation’s political discourse. 

The early reactions unveiled a split between those who said the shooting reflected the passionate tone of partisan debate in the country and others who said the rampage that killed six people was the work of a deranged individual.

On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, a fellow member of the Arizona delegation, Republican Rep. Trent Franks said it was ironic that when Giffords “was out doing her job as a member of Congress, some deranged degenerate shot her down. And I will tell you that I think that’s an attack not only on freedom and the country itself; it’s an attack on humanity.”

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He called Giffords “a precious, decent woman" who "did not deserve what happened to her.”

The suspected gunman, Jared Loughner, Franks said, “had no respect for innocent human life” and “was willing – whatever his statement was – he was willing to kill someone, to kill many people to make it.”

Franks: Don't give shooter 'too much credit'
But he cautioned, “We don’t want to give this Loughner too much credit here."

Franks disputed the idea that "he was some person making a grand political statement. This guy was a deranged lunatic that had no respect for his fellow human beings and completely rejected any kind of constitutional foundation of this nation.”

Video: Rep. Franks: Ariz. shooting ‘an attack on humanity’

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. and Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz, D-Fla., disagreed with Franks, arguing that intemperate rhetoric from politicians and from news media personalities might encourage some individuals to act violently.

Durbin, the Democratic whip in the Senate, cited imagery of crosshairs on political opponents and Sarah Palin's combative rallying cry, "Don't retreat; reload."

"These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," Durbin said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.

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On Meet the Press, Wasserman Schultz cited a radio talk show host in Florida who said during last fall’s campaign, “We will use bullets if ballots don’t work.”

MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann said in a “special comment” on his program Saturday night that “once in a clumsy metaphor" he had "made an unintended statement” about Hillary Clinton on his program during the 2008 campaign. “It sounded as if it was a call of physical violence.”

Olbermann apologized for making that statement. He said, "Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or anything in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence."

Cleaver, too, saw a danger in heated rhetoric coming from politicians and news media personalities.

Worries about 'toxic' political debate
“We are in a dark place in this country right now. And the atmospheric condition is toxic,” said Cleaver. “Much of it originates here in Washington, D.C., and we export it around the country.”

He said he agreed with Franks that no one yet knows why Loughner went on his shooting spree on Saturday. But “it doesn’t matter however,” he argued. “This ought to be a wake-up call to not only members of Congress but to the people in this country that we are headed in the wrong direction.”

Video: Olbermann: Violence and threats have no place in democracy (on this page)

Cleaver said “what happened in the debate is one person or one side, Republicans or Democrats, it doesn’t matter, they say ‘I’m right and you’re evil’ and that’s what damaging this country.”

He said inflamed debate in Congress had become “entertainment” for some Americans “but for some, it gives them an excuse to exercise the bitterness that may be deep inside of them.”

Cleaver cited as an example the incident last week when a visitor to House gallery shouted out a statement claiming President Obama was not born in the United States. He called on members of Congress to “turn down the volume” of their own rhetoric and exercise more civility.

“The public is being riled up” to the point where town hall meetings with constituents are becoming a volatile and even dangerous, he said.

Freshman Republican: Don't stifle debate
Rep. Raul Labrador, R- Idaho, just elected last November, said “We have to be careful not to blame one side or the other, because both sides are guilty of this. You have extremes on both sides. You have crazy people on both sides.”

Labrador also said “we can’t use this as a moment to try to stifle one side or the other. We can’t use this as a moment to say, one side doesn’t have a right to talk about the issues they are passionate about.”

On ABC’s This Week, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D- Md., while not saying that the gunman in Tucson was motivated by any statements he may have heard in political debates, said the problem for Congress is how to discuss issues without “somehow crossing a line in a way that can lead to supercharged rhetoric that could have unintended consequences.”

Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., said “we meet with our constituents on a daily basis and that cannot be lost” due to fears of members of Congress being assaulted.

Crowley said, “We have to evaluate everything that’s gone on: the motives behind these shootings, not only of Gabby but of the judge and the six people that were killed” and “make assessments after we know everything about what took place.”

On the same program, syndicated columnist George Will blamed the "ravenous" appetite of cable television talk shows for controversial guests and provocative comments.

“People fill the time often by going to extremes, it makes better television, makes crisper television," Will said. "So there’s a structure driven by technology that gives our debates a kind of artificial ferocity and clarity.”

Will said Americans will want to know whether the gunman in Tucson had a political motive or whether he was a mentally ill person. “We don’t know where on the continuum this falls.”

Will said it would be better for country if it turns out the gunman is a deranged person rather than someone acting from a political motive.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday morning in a statement from his district in Ohio that “an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Such acts of violence have no place in our society…. This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty.”

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