By Jared Allen - 03/25/10 05:02 PM EDT
Plans for a rare joint statement from House leaders to condemn threats made to their members over the healthcare vote were complicated by the actions of other lawmakers.
Wednesday meeting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and
Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) laid the groundwork for the
statement, but members on both sides of the aisle spent Thursday
jeopardizing the situation, according to aides..
Before refusing to take questions, Cantor
accused Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van
Hollen (D-Md.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine of
using the threats to score political points.
“I have deep
concerns that some — DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chairman
Tim Kaine in particular — are dangerously fanning the flames by
suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon,” said
Cantor, who noted that his leadership position and Jewish faith have
resulted in violence, including a bullet being shot through his
campaign office window earlier this week.
should be treated as security issues, and they should be dealt with by
the appropriate law enforcement officials,” Cantor said. “It is
reckless to use these instances as media vehicles for political gain.”
however, feel that threats have been directed at them because of
Republican refusals to distance themselves from angry protesters.
spokesman for the DNC said it was “entirely appropriate” to call on
Republicans “who have contributed in part to this anger by wildly
mischaracterizing the substance and motives of health reform” to
condemn threats and acts of violence.
A spokesman for Van Hollen struck a similar note.
Congressman Van Hollen called upon Republican leaders to condemn the
harsh rhetoric that is fanning the flames of extremism around the
country,” Van Hollen spokesman Doug Thornell said. “Today, Mr. Cantor
had the opportunity to join Mr. Van Hollen in calling for restraint.
Instead, he chose to use his press conference to level false
accusations. This is straight out of the Republicans’ political
playbook of deflecting responsibility and distracting attention away
from a serious issue.”
The back-and-forth complicated the
efforts of Democratic leaders and their GOP counterparts to speak out
against such acts with a unified voice, according to senior Democratic
Minutes before Cantor’s press conference, Pelosi and
Boehner, at separate events, refused to cast blame on the other side
when asked about threats and their connection to Sunday’s debate on
“I don’t subscribe to the fact that these acts of
violence sprang from any words of my colleagues,” Pelosi said. “It’s
inappropriate for members of Congress to stand up and cheer when these
sentiments are expressed in the gallery. That’s different from saying
that it provoked it.”
Boehner spoke along the same lines.
was a lot of activity on the floor over the last several months that I
would describe as unacceptable,” Boehner said. “And it’s happened on
both sides of the political aisle. That’s why the Speaker and I talked
about it yesterday. It’s one of the reasons I talked to my members on
Sunday before the debate started, that we ought to be respectful of
a Thursday morning news conference to discuss the jobs bill, two junior
Democrats — Reps. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) and Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) —
called for Boehner to relinquish his leadership position and even his
House seat, remarks that gave Democratic leaders additional heartburn,
aides said later.
“I will respect John’s absolute right to
oppose any bill we have the same way we should have the right to oppose
any bill they have, but if you can’t do it without promoting violence,
then you’ve got to get out of this institution,” said a visibly angry
Hare. “If he’s looking for a pass out of me, he ain’t going to get it.
I hope John Boehner understands this, and the fear that a lot of
members have now for their families.
“Nobody ought to have to go home and have police escorts,” Hare said.
a top Republican told The Hill that he has received a large number of
threats to his life over the years, saying he often travels with added
police protection because of it.
The GOP lawmaker said that
he restructured his house out of caution because people have threatened
to shoot him in the head and have posted his home address on the
Internet. But, he said, he doesn’t approve of lawmakers going public
with the danger.
“Look, the threats are wrong, and I could
show you voice mails that make [those received by Democratic Rep. Bart]
Stupak [D-Mich.] sound like nothing,” he said. “But when you publicize
the threats, it gets people going.”
The Capitol Police said
that for security reasons, they would not reveal how many, or if,
lawmakers have requested police protection over the spring recess.
Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer said he was not aware of any senators or
staff requesting additional security against threats.
“There really is no palpable concern from members or staff about security,” Gainer told The Hill.
meeting with the lawmakers and the U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI
released a statement saying the agency was treating the threats
seriously and was working in connection with other agencies to
determine who made the threats and whether charges should be brought
Pelosi described her members as undeterred and
seemed to downplay any actual danger to her caucus. But Boehner
suggested that the danger may be as real as some lawmakers believe.
“They’re in the middle of this, and I have no reason to discount what they say,” he said.
Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.
This story was updated at 8:27 p.m.