The flags flying at half mast over the U.S. Capitol Monday morning were not the only indications of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., this weekend.
There was a increased, visible security presence on Capitol Hill today as members of Congress and hundreds of congressional staffers observed a moment of silence in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and those who were killed and wounded two days ago in Tucson.
Well-wishers and mourners left flowers and candles at a makeshift tribute which was surrounded by velvet ropes on the east front of the Capitol in the shadow of the Statue of Freedom, which adorns the dome.
As the moment of silence approached, streams of staffers poured out of the House office buildings across Independence Avenue towards the Capitol.
U.S. Capitol police officers asked staffers to present their identification before they were permitted to join the gathering. Other officers with high-powered rifles marched back-and-forth scoping out any potential threats. Even more officers patrolled the grounds on foot and bicycles.
About a dozen members of Congress joined the large staff gathering for the one minute of silence. By the time they finished lining up, the steps were packed shoulder-to-shoulder.
After the somber moment passed, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., asked everyone to put their arms around one another to join in prayer.
"Help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine and hope," Cleaver prayed. "Bless these God, our servants, who serve this nation. Keep them safe. More than anything God we ask that you keep our hearts pure."
Hours after the tragic attack Saturday, Cleaver told ABC News that incidents like the Giffords shooting should not prevent members of Congress from meeting with constituents, as the Arizona Congresswoman was doing at the time of the shooting.
Giffords Shooting Raises Security Concerns
"If we're going to be a representative government, and we are in the House of Representatives, we've got to put anything in the back of our minds that would prevent us from interacting with our constituents," Cleaver said.
But some members said today they do not want heightened security measures to come between themselves, and their constituents.
"We virtually go back, at least I do, virtually every weekend with lots of public events, whether going to the grocery store or to church, I mean, people know what we're up to in the communities that we represent and I see that very unlikely to change," Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. "In reality, you would really change the way that we operate if you impose such a new set of restrictions and for the most part I think most of us would balk it."
"I will not be paralyzed by fear. I will not look at my citizens and automatically think that I am in danger," Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., proclaimed. "I walk with my chest held high, my head held high, and I know that I am responsible for everything I say and do."
"I am not concerned and if I were I don't see how I could be a member of the House of Representatives. Our mandate is to get as close to the people as possible," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., added. "We stand for election every two years, because the people have to judge us up close."
Nevertheless, today many people on Capitol Hill were on edge.
Earlier Monday morning, Capitol Police closed down the area by the Capitol South metro station, on the House side of the Capitol complex, because a suspicious package was found. But after an examination the police gave the "all clear" and said that "nothing hazardous" was found.
The Capitol Police have been closely involved in the investigation into the shooting in Tucson. On Saturday they advised members of Congress to "take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security." Later that day in a message to Senate offices, they said, "There is no indication at this time that this event is part of a larger threat against the Congressional membership or has a nexus to terrorism, but the investigation is ongoing."
House Suspends Most Work for Week
For Cleaver, who was spat on while walking into the Capitol complex during a Tea Party protest during the health care debate last year, the shooting in Tuscon was another indication of the heated political rhetoric that has escalated in recent years.
"We are in a dark place right now in this country politically," Cleaver said. "We can no longer disagree and simply try to resolve our disagreements and come up with a policy that both sides can in some ways embrace. We've come to a point now where if we disagree we are enemies, and we spend a great amount of time planning ways to dismember each other politically and it all begins with campaigns. I think people overlook the fact that the campaigns are becoming nastier and nastier, and more and more personal, and when that happens, after the election, people are still bruised."
Sunday Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that the House will not move forward this week in its efforts to repeal the health care reform law, but instead will act legislatively to "take necessary action regarding [Saturday's] events."
There are no votes expected in the House this week, but the House will convene Wednesday to pass a resolution honoring Giffords and the other victims of the shooting.
Also on Wednesday, there will be a bipartisan security briefing on Capitol Hill by the Capitol Police, the Sergeant at Arms and the FBI.