The first audience question at a town hall event for Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun Tuesday highlights just how tenuous the spirit of political civility has been in the wake of the Tucson shootings last month.
"Who is going to shoot Obama?" an unidentified constituent asked Broun, drawing a big laugh from the crowd, according to a report in the Athens Banner-Herald.
"The thing is, I know there's a lot of frustration with this president," Broun replied, opting not to object to the question or its reference to violence.
"We're going to have an election next year," he said before taking the next question. "Hopefully, we'll elect somebody that's going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare."
Broun spokeswoman Jessica Morris confirmed the exchange and defended the congressman's response, saying earlier this week, "obviously, the question was inappropriate, so congressman Broun moved on."
But after growing criticism of Broun's handling of the exchange, the representative released a statement today calling the question "abhorrent."
"I was stunned by the question and chose not to dignify it with a response," he said. "Therefore, at that moment I moved on to the next person with a question. After the event, my office took action with the appropriate authorities."
The U.S. Secret Service has said it looked into the threatening comments and now considers the case closed.
"I deeply regret that this incident happened at all," Broun said. "Furthermore, I condemn all statements -- made in sincerity or jest -- that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated."
Broun, 64, a family doctor who was elected to a third term in office in November, is one of the House's most conservative members and a member of the Tea Party caucus.
He has been an outspoken critic of Democrats and the Obama administration, at times employing controversial and inflammatory rhetoric.
During President Obama's State of the Union address in January, Broun chose not to attend in the House chamber, where members of both parties were sitting together in a display of bipartisan unity.
Instead, he watched the speech from his office and tweeted: "Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism."
Broun Uses Pointed Rhetoric
At a town hall meeting with constituents in October, Broun blasted the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control, calling its national nutrition initiatives "socialism of the highest order."
"They want to give all the power to the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables," he said. "This is what the federal, CDC, they going to be calling you to make sure you eat fruits and vegetables, every day."
He questioned whether then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was "arrogant ... ignorant ... incompetent" and deliberately using "tricks, deceptions, and bald-faced lies" during a news conference on the health care overhaul last spring.
And, after the 2008 presidential election, Broun compared president-elect Obama to Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx.
"When he's proposing to have a national security force that's answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he's showing me signs of being Marxist," Broun said in an interview with the Associated Press. "That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did."
Broun, whose northeastern Georgia district includes Athens and Augusta, has said his views are not personal attacks but legitimate criticisms of a political philosophy.