The Note: Arizona Aftermath: What Will And Won’t Change In Washington?

Jan 10, 2011 9:10am


It’s been less than 48 hours since Saturday’s killings in Arizona and we’re already seeing indications of how the tragedy will and won’t affect everything from security of the country’s elected officials to the tone of its political debate.

What will change?

The short answer seems to be: not much. In the near term, Congress will put on hold its legislative agenda that was to include debate and a vote on repeal of the health care reform law this week. But, the focus is likely to return soon to Obamacare and GOP oversight efforts.

There has been considerable debate over the super-charged and sometimes overheated nature of American political discourse following Saturday’s events, which left 20 people either dead or injured, and as ABC’s Jonathan Karl recently noted, “there is a sense that this may — just may — be a catalyst for a slight toning down of the political vitriol.”

The liberal group, Move On, circulated a petition on Sunday asking supporters to urge lawmakers in Washington and well as television and cable news networks “to put an end to the hateful rhetoric and all overt or implied appeals to violence.”

And Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., went one step further, promising to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime for someone to use language or imagery that might be construed as threatening violence against members of Congress or federal officials.

“This is not a wake-up call, this is major alarms going off,” Brady said in an interview on CNN.

While some may choose to hold politicians more accountable than ever for their choice of words, it’s clear that much of the polarization in the political environment will remain. We’re already seeing a highly-charged debate on blogs and in social and traditional media about Sarah Palin’s target list.  

What won’t change?

As ABC’s Karl reported yesterday on a bipartisan conference call yesterday to discuss Congressional safety in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, lawmakers made clear the need to stay close to their constituents.

“Nobody is suggesting metal detectors at town hall meetings, for example,” Karl reports. “Members have been reminded to take common sense precautions and inform local law enforcement of their events.  But being out with people in their districts is the very essence of a member of Congress’s job and it is not going to change.”

And what about renewed attention on gun control?

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed in a shooting in 1993, said she plans to introduce legislation that would restrict the high-capacity ammunition used by the Arizona shooter.

“My staff is working on looking at the different legislation fixes that we might be able to do and we might be able to introduce as early as tomorrow,” McCarthy said in an interview with Politico on Sunday.

But, there are unlikely to be major gun law changes as a result of this weekend’s incident. What is more likely is increased attention on mental health issues. Authorities have said the suspect, Jared Loughner, showed numerous signs of mental instability in advance of Saturday’s events.

A NOTE ON POLTICAL RHETORIC. From ABC News Political Director Amy Walter: “We can’t blame heated political rhetoric for this senseless tragedy anymore than we can blame violent video games, movies and TV shows.  American culture not only condones violence, but often celebrates it as well. … When a nine -year old girl who dreamed of getting involved in politics is murdered while trying to meet a role model, it should make every parent, teacher and community leader stop and reassess the language, images and assumptions that are woven into our culture.  This is a teachable moment that everyone, not just political figures, need to take part. The blame game isn’t going to get us anywhere. And, at the risk of falling back into my political habit, it’s also exactly what voters have said that they are sick and tired of too.”


The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz: “Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, [Sarah] Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

National Journal’s Kathy Kiely: “Maybe it’s time to tell the American people the truth about Washington: It’s filled with flawed but engaging human beings who, for the most part, want the same thing: a better future for their country and their kids and whose only disagreement is about how to get there. Words do matter. They can take on a life of their own in some minds, so maybe we need to be more careful with our metaphors.   We can’t know what motivated Giffords’ attacker. But even if there’s just an outside chance that it was the way we talk about other, isn’t it worth trying to clean up our act?”

Slate’s Jack Shafer: “Any call to cool ‘inflammatory’ speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power. As Jonathan Rauch wrote brilliantly in Harper's in 1995, ‘The vocabulary of hate is potentially as rich as your dictionary, and all you do by banning language used by cretins is to let them decide what the rest of us may say.’ Rauch added, ‘Trap the racists and anti-Semites, and you lay a trap for me too. Hunt for them with eradication in your mind, and you have brought dissent itself within your sights.’”

@DavidFrum: “Contra Jack Shafer, the right to be a jackass does not imply a duty to be a jackass.”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows: “We don't know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we'll never ‘understand.’ But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac's famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about ‘eliminating’ opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say ‘don't retreat, reload.’”


A MOMENT OF SILENCE. At 11 a.m. today President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to observe a moment of silence on the South Lawn to honor the victims of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz. “It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart,” President Obama said in a statement that also called for flags to be flown at half-staff.

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter speak with Virginia Senate candidate Jamie Radtke and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ predecessor in Congress, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.


ABC NEWS DIGITAL SPECIAL. George Stephanopoulos will anchor this morning’s ABC News/Facebook digital special at 10am ET. Stephanopoulos will be joined by ABC News’ Dan Harris and Pierre Thomas in Arizona, Jake Tapper at the White House, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy from New York, and Facebook’s Andrew Noyes. The program be streamed live on Tune in:



*Giffords still critical: About half of her skull was removed, but she is said to be responsive. Treating physician Dr. Peter Rhee said:  “Dr. Lemole took the skull off and kept it off, right now part of her brain has no skull, it’s preserved in the hospital, we can implant that later on.” 

*The injured: People who needed surgery “all recovering well,” doctors say. Only Giffords remains in critical condition. There are still 3 in serious condition, and the rest are in fair and good condition.

*The suspect: Federal charges were filed Sunday and Jared Loughner's first court appearance is today in Phoenix at 4 pm ET.  Loughner is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Lougner acted alone. WATCH:

*More charges: In addition to federal charges already filed, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall told The Arizona Republic her office will file numerous state charges, including murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault, against Loughner after her staff reviews police reports

*The friend: Mother Jones is reporting that in an exclusive interview, Bryce Tierney, a friend of Loughner, said that he got a voice mail from Loughner at 2am Saturday, about eight hours before the shooting, of Loughner saying:  “Hey man, it's Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later."  Tierney reportedly said he had a sick feeling when he heard about the shooting and suspected it was Loughner.

*The family: Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly Sunday night released the following statement. It reads, in part:  “On behalf of Gabby and our entire family, I want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the people of Arizona and this great nation for their unbelievable outpouring of support. Gabby was doing what she loved most – hearing from her constituents – when this tragedy occurred. Serving Southern Arizonans is her passion, and nothing makes her more proud than representing them in Congress. Like all Americans, we mourn the loss of Judge John M. Roll, Christina Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Gabe Zimmerman, a fine man and beloved member of Gabby's team. We must never forget them, and our prayers are with their families.”



GUN CULTURE IN THE SPOTLIGHT. “From Arizona's permissive gun laws to the toxic, us-versus-them environment that has permeated U.S. political discourse, political figures, pundits and the police have begun to point fingers,” ABC News’ David Wright and Kevin Dolak note. “Arizona's gun laws are among the nation's least restrictive — where guns are allowed in public spaces and buildings and concealed weapons can be carried without a permit by those qualified to own a gun.”

POLLS SHOW… More from Wright and Dolak’s report: “Seven in 10 Americans in a recent Gallup poll opposed banning handgun ownership — a position that's grown in recent years according to ABC News' pollster Gary Langer of Langer Research Associates. … A majority of Americans have supported banning semi-automatic handguns, the same kind used in Saturday's attack. … However, Americans overwhelmingly see gun ownership as a constitutional right, and express doubt that the availability of guns is the primary cause of gun violence. … In an October Gallup poll, 44 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws – tying the low and down from 78 percent from when the question was first posed in 1990.”

THE INVESTIGATION. “Investigators here focused their attention on [Jared] Loughner, whom they accused of methodically planning the shootings, which occurred outside a supermarket. The court documents said Mr. Loughner bought the semiautomatic Glock pistol used in the shooting at Sportsman’s Warehouse, which sells hunting and fishing gear, on Nov. 30 in Tucson,” The New York Times’ Marc Lacey reports. “The documents also indicated that the suspect had previous contact with the congresswoman. Also found in the safe at Mr. Loughner’s home was a letter from Ms. Giffords thanking him for attending a 2007 ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event, like the one she was holding Saturday morning when she was shot.”

Suspect Jared Lee Loughner's neighbors observed odd behavior prior to attack. WATCH:

AN EXTREMIST? In Abu Dhabi today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled the Tucson shooter an "extremist,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. "Look, we have extremists in my country," she said. "A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Giffords was just shot in our country. We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence." (Tapper notes: “The label ‘extremist’ in that context suggests a political motivation. President Obama and officials in the law enforcement community have been more circumspect in their public remarks, suggesting it is too early to ascribe motive.”)



WHITE HOUSE WATCH. ABC’s Sunlen Miller notes: In the afternoon, President Obama will hold a bilateral meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in the Oval Office. Following the meeting, the President and President Sarkozy will deliver statements to the press in the Oval Office at approx 12:55 pm.

POLITICS OF BOWL GAMES. “College football’s bowl system has long been a target of sports fans, newspaper columnists and even President Obama. But now a different kind of group is weighing in on the way the sport’s champion is determined: a Washington political action committee,” The New York Times’ Katie Thomas reports. “The lawyers behind the committee, Playoff PAC, seek a playoff system in college football more akin to the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament. They are not just producing attack ads; they are also going after the bowls’ finances. In complaints to the Internal Revenue Service, they have raised questions involving three of the four bowls that make up the five-game Bowl Championship Series about interest-free loans, high salaries, lobbying payments and lavish perks for some bowl executives. They have also made accusations about illegal campaign contributions.”



@edatpost: People who want to send good wishes to Rep. #Giffords may e-mail, her office says

@DMarkPOLITICO: Is the state of Arizona getting unfairly branded with this “Wild West” reputation?

@ThePlumLineGS: RT @peterdaou Good points by @ThePlumLineGS on "rewarding quasi-violent rhetoric with uncritical media attention"

@sanuzis: RedState's Erickson Endorses Anuzis

@PoliticalTicker: Poll: Huckabee most liked, Palin provokes most negative reaction -


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