A usually steely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday began to tear up when, in responding to a question about the tone of the national debate, she recalled the politically charged violence that tore through her hometown of San Francisco in the late 1970s.
At her weekly news conference, Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked if she was concerned about whether the debate over healthcare and the role of the federal government — much of it wrapped in escalating anti-government rhetoric — could lead to acts of violence.
“I think we all have to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance,” Pelosi began.
But she then reached back some 30 years, to the very beginning of her career in politics, to recall how heated rhetoric led to the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by a disgruntled former supervisor on Nov. 27, 1978.
“I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw … I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco,” Pelosi said, choking up and with tears forming in her eyes. “This kind of rhetoric is just, is really frightening and it created a climate in which we, violence took place and … I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made.” (WATCH VIDEO HERE)
Following the press conference, Pelosi aides confirmed that she was referencing the Milk and Moscone assassinations, which coincided with a wave of politically driven violence throughout the city.
Pelosi had been elected Northern California Democratic Party chairwoman on Jan. 30, 1977, launching a career that would make her the most powerful woman in American political history. This past November, Pelosi attended a memorial service marking the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Milk, who was the first openly gay man to win elected office in California.
On Tuesday House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the current debate some of the harshest he has ever seen.
“I do believe that there is expressions throughout the country being made that are unusually harsh,” Hoyer said. “And I think the attacks being made on President Obama are unusually vitriolic.”