Congress Receiving Death Threats
As many as ten Congressmen have allegedly received death threats over their votes on health care reform.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is warning that some of his Democratic colleagues are being threatened with violence when they go back to their districts — and he wants Republicans to stand up and condemn the threats.
The Maryland Democrat said more than 10 House Democrats have reported incidents of threats or other forms of harassment about their support of the highly divisive health insurance overhaul vote. Hoyer emphasized that he didn’t have a specific number of threats and that was just an estimate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Capitol Police and sergeant at arms briefed Democrats behind closed doors today about the incidents of violence — the most high profile of which have been toward Democratic Reps. Thomas Perriello of Virginia, Steve Driehaus of Ohio and Louise Slaughter of New York.
Hoyer hinted that Republicans should do more to condemn these threats of violence. “I would hope that we would join together jointly and make it very clear that none of us condone this kind of activity,” Hoyer told reporters. “And when we see it, we speak out strongly in opposition to it. And I would hope that we would do that going forward.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the majority whip, said Democrats and Republicans should continue to speak out on these threats. “Silence gives consent,” Clyburn said.
But Minority Leader John Boehner already has condemned threats of violence — and sought to explain why people are so angry. “I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” Boehner said. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard — but let’s do it the right way.”
A Republican aide also pointed out that over the years Republican members of Congress received their fair share of death threats during volatile times. Newt Gingrich after the 1994 Republican revolution and the late Henry Hyde during the Clinton impeachment in 1998 both received numerous death threats. And just last month, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) received death threats after his filibuster of unemployment benefits, according to a report in Roll Call.
There have, alas, been some real incidents and some Members are, quite reasonably, frightened:
One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, said he knows several Democrats who have told their spouses to move out of the home districts while the lawmakers are in Washington. “If this doesn’t get under control in short time, heaven forbid, someone will get hurt,” Hare said.
And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters after a caucus meeting that members who feel in danger would “get attention from the proper authorities.”
Hare is holding eight town hall meetings in his district over the recess and requested that the Capitol Police coordinate with his local police department to provide security. His wife has pleaded with him to cancel the events. “My wife is home alone, and I’m worried for her,” he said. “I am about to have my first grandchild. I don’t want to have to be worried.”
Incidents are sprouting up all over the country. The gas lines were cut at the house of Virginia Democratic Rep. Thomas Perriello’s brother, near Charlottesville, Va., prompting an FBI investigation. Local police are making routine checks of the home. A tea party activist from southern Virginia posted online the address of Perriello’s brother, thinking it was the lawmaker’s. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) had his address posted on the Internet, with a message from a right-wing blogger asking people to show up at Driehaus’s Cincinnati “mansion” to protest his health care vote. A photo of Driehaus’s family appeared in a Cincinnati newspaper ad urging the lawmaker to vote against the health care bill last week. A brick was thrown through the window of the Democratic Party’s Cincinnati office. And Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who negotiated the breakthrough on abortion language in the health care bill, has received numerous death threats and faxes with violent images at his office.
Boehner’s message is exactly the right one: People have a right to be angry when Congress passes laws they don’t like but they don’t have a right to threaten or use violence. The appropriate response to losing in our political system is to persuade more of your fellow citizens to vote your way and repeal bad laws and pass good ones. (Although, as Democrats can attest, even winning doesn’t mean you’ll get all of what you want.)
And, unlike Michelle Malkin [actually, Doug Powers blogging at her digs], Dan Riehl, and others, I do think Republican leaders have some responsibility to condemn violence. No, I don’t think they’re directly responsible for any of it; we don’t yet even know for sure who’s making the threats. But we’ve had over a year of very heated rhetoric over the dire consequences that would flow from a government takeover of one sixth of the economy, death panels, legislation being rammed through with dirty tricks, and all the rest. That’s part and parcel of American politics these days and mostly fine. But, with signs that people are going off the rails evident, it’s time for leaders to calm their followers.
That said, there are “death threats” and there are death threats. Frustrated yahoos spout off all the time and today’s age of instant, relatively anonymous, communications makes it much easier than in the past. It’s quite likely that most, if not all, of these threats are hollow. That doesn’t make them right or make Members receiving them any more comfortable. But I don’t think we’re reaching a point where mob violence is going to be a serious factor in our politics.
I am, however, less confident in that then I was 24 hours ago.