WASHINGTON — The second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives accused Democratic Party leaders Thursday of "fanning the flames" about threats of violence to House Democrats and exploiting the reported incidents for political purposes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tried to cool those flames, however, saying that no one should blame members of Congress for provoking such incidents.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, said that he, too, had been a victim of violence. He said that his office in Richmond was shot at early Tuesday morning and that he'd received threats throughout his political career for being Jewish.
However, Richmond police said late Thursday that it appears the bullet had been randomly fired into the air around 1 a.m. Tuesday and hit the window of the first-floor office when it was headed back down.
Cantor devoted most of a news conference Thursday to calling out Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, charging that they're using the reported incidents against Democratic lawmakers as a "political weapon" against Republicans.
"It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain," Cantor said. "That is why I have deep concerns that some — DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen, and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine in particular — are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."
Pounding a podium, Cantor shouted: "Enough is enough. It has to stop."
In the past week, Democrats who supported the sweeping health insurance overhaul legislation reportedly have been targets in several incidents. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that more than 10 incidents had been reported.
House Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., had a brick thrown through the window of her Niagara Falls district office.
The FBI is investigating a "suspicious incident" at the home of the brother of Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., a centrist in a tough campaign for re-election who voted for the bill.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., reported that her Tucson office had been vandalized.
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., said she'd received a threatening voice mail at her Brookville, Fla., office Thursday morning that said, "Just wanna let you know I have 27 people that are going to make sure that this bitch does not live to see her next term. Goodbye."
Cantor left the news conference without taking questions or elaborating why his comments focused on Kaine and Van Hollen. The DNC did release a fundraising e-mail appeal that cited the reported attacks on Democratic lawmakers.
The DNC also debuted a series of TV ads that will begin in 25 congressional districts thanking House Democrats who voted for the health care bill. The ads will run as well in the districts of 10 Republicans who voted against the bill.
Van Hollen has accused the Republican leadership of trying to ride the wave of the tea party movement and voter anger while not taking responsibility when things go awry.
Doug Thornell, a Van Hollen spokesman, said Cantor's comments were "straight out of the Republicans' political playbook of deflecting responsibility and distracting attention away from a serious issue."
Pelosi took a more soothing tone, saying that she didn't want to paint everyone "with the same brush, and I think many people want to disassociate themselves with it."
However, she added, "Words have power. They weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people depending on their emotional state, and we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject."
Pelosi wouldn't criticize specific GOP leaders or members, saying, "I don't subscribe to the fact that these acts of violence sprang from any words of my colleagues."
However, she also said that Congress should be regarded as a "classroom" and that it was "inappropriate" for members of Congress to encourage protesters from within the building, as some Republicans did over the weekend. At one point, some GOP lawmakers went to a Capitol balcony and egged on raucous anti-health care demonstrators.
"That is different from saying they provoked it," Pelosi said, referring to the threats.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who was on the balcony, said Thursday that House Republicans were only trying to tell demonstrators "not to give up, because we weren't giving up."
King said people were reading way too much into it.
"We were having fun," he said. "Remember, the same people also gathered for a prayer session that day."
Cantor said that Democrats weren't the only ones who endured the ire of angry citizens. He said that someone had shot at a window of his Richmond campaign office.
"The bullet struck with enough force to break the windowpane but did not penetrate the window blinds," Richmond police said in a news release. "There was no other damage to the room, which is used occasionally for meetings by the congressman."
Cantor said he'd received threats throughout his career because he was Jewish, but he said he didn't publicize them, to avoid inciting violence.
"Any suggestion that a leader in this body would incite threats or acts against other members is akin to saying that I would endanger myself, my wife or my children," Cantor said.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Republican Caucus Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana repeated condemnations Thursday of any reported acts of harassment, violence and intimidation against lawmakers.
Pence, however, speaking on the House floor, said that "millions of law-abiding Americans" who opposed the health bill were being smeared in the news media by associating them with the bad behavior of a few people.
"The American people have every right to oppose this government takeover of health care without being lumped in with bigots and vandals by liberals in Congress and in the mainstream press," Pence said. "I say to my countrymen: End the threats. End the vandalism, and let's also end the smears of the law-abiding citizens exercising their First Amendment right to speech and peaceable assembly."
(Lesley Clark contributed to this article.)
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