An emotional Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) paid tribute Wednesday to the victims of the Tucson shooting, lauding the injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) while pledging the House would “lock arms” in prayer and resolve.
“These are difficult hours for our country,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE said as the House opened debate on a resolution denouncing the massacre and honoring its victims.
“Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not,” he said. “This is a time for the House to lock arms in prayer for the fallen and the wounded and a resolve to carry on a dialogue of democracy.
“We may not have all the final answers, but we already have the answer that matters most: that we’re Americans and we will make it through this difficult period. We will have the last word.”
Boehner choked up as he remembered Gabriel Zimmerman, an aide to Giffords who died in the shooting. The Speaker called Zimmerman “a public servant of the highest caliber.”
Referring to Giffords, who remains in intensive care after suffering a gunshot wound to the head, Boehner said: “We are thankful, so thankful, that Gabby is still with us.”
The Speaker also said the House would not be deterred in completing its business, although he made no reference to contentious legislation that is slated to come to the floor as early as next week.
“Today is not ceremony, but tragedy that stirs us to renew our commitment faithfully fulfill our oath of office,” he said. “Let us not let this inhuman act frighten us into doing otherwise. The free exchange of ideas is the lifeblood of our democracy.”
Boehner pulled out a handkerchief as he walked away from the lectern in the well of the House to wipe tears from his eyes.
The resolution the House approved late Wednesday “condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific attack.” It also recognizes each of the 20 victims of the shooting and “applauds the bravery and quick thinking” of the people who tackled the gunman and potentially prevented more casualties.
In all, 144 members of the House, gave heartfelt speeches throughout the day leading up to a voice vote on the resolution. As the final speaker on the Democratic side of the aisle, Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyThe Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP MORE (D-Iowa) thanked Republicans for their "extreme sensitivity and devotion" to the resolution.
Even as some lawmakers blame overheated and violent rhetoric for contributing to the massacre, the House underscored its commitment to the First Amendment and to hashing out political differences at the ballot box — not in the streets.
The resolution “reaffirms the bedrock principle of democracy and representative government, which is memorialized in the First Amendment of the Constitution and which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself read in the Hall of the House of Representatives on Jan. 6, 2011, of ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.’”
It adds that the House “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.”
After Boehner spoke, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hailed Giffords, first elected in 2006, as “a brilliant and courageous member of Congress.”
“She brought to Congress an invigoration, a thinking of a new generation of national leaders,” the former Speaker said. “She came to Congress full of ideas, and we will long continue to be blessed by them and look forward to when she is present with us on the House floor.”
Pelosi joined Boehner in condemning the violence, saying “political disagreement and dissent must never violate our nation’s values.”
“In this hour of anguish, we seek renewed commitment to hope, to civility, to peace among the American people,” Pelosi said.
The respective second-ranking party leaders, Reps. Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), spoke next, followed by members of Arizona's congressional delegation. A few dozen other House members sat in the chamber as the tribute commenced.
Earlier Wednesday at a closed-door meeting, House Republicans were briefed by the FBI, U.S. Capitol Police and the chief administrative officer on security procedures. Democrats were scheduled to have a similar briefing separately.
One House Republican said the FBI went over the timeline of Giffords’s attack and fielded questions on security in the district offices — a concern for most members in light of the shooting.
Newly elected GOP Rep. Allen West (Fla.) said he wasn’t concerned for his own safety but for that of the public and his staff. West, a combat veteran of the Army, said, “I can take care of myself.”
Pelosi and members of the Arizona delegation will travel with President Obama on Air Force One later Wednesday for a memorial service in Tucson, Ariz., at which the president is scheduled to speak. House leaders plan to break from tributes on the floor around midday to hold a separate memorial service.
At a private bipartisan prayer service for members later Wednesday, Boehner praised his colleagues for coming together and showing restraint amid the angry recriminations following the shooting.
“As our nation struggles to comprehend this act of savagery – this fearful assault on all of our sacred responsibilities – it speaks well of our institution that its members have reacted not with a torrent of accusations hurled at each other, but courageously, with a collective embrace, the embrace of brothers, sisters, and countrymen,” Boehner said, according to prepared remarks released by his office. “It is in that spirit that we assemble here today.”
This post was last updated at 6:17 p.m.