Cantor: Dems using threatening incidents as 'political weapon'

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.

A 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..

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The most prominent break came from Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), who held a hastily called news conference to charge two top Democrats with inciting violence.

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.

“Legitimate threats 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.”

Democrats, however, feel that threats have been directed at them because of Republican refusals to distance themselves from angry protesters.

A 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.

“Yesterday, 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 aides.

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 healthcare.

“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.

“There 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 each other.”

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Boehner was not alone in having to deal with caucus members who were not toeing the leadership line.

At 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Senate 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.

After 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 against them.

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.

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