WASHINGTON-Only days into the 112th Congress, the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., which ended six lives and wounded 14, hands Ohio Republican John Boehner his first test as the new House speaker.
Boehner canceled all legislative business for the week, which was to include a vote on the repeal of healthcare reform, and said that the House would pass a resolution honoring the victims of the rampage. Flowers appeared in the hallway outside Giffords' Washington office and flags around the Capitol are flying at half-mast to honor Giffords' staffer Gabe Zimmerman, 30, who was killed. Giffords, meanwhile, remains sedated and in critical condition.
On Sunday, Boehner held a conference call with House members, their spouses, and staff.
"What is critical is that we stand together at this dark time as one body," he said on the call. "At a time when an individual has shown us humanity at its worst, we must rise to the occasion for our nation and show Congress at its best."
The FBI, the U.S. Capitol Police, and the House sergeant at arms will be reevaluating security for lawmakers, on Boehner's orders. Only those in leadership typically travel with security details, though lawmakers who are victims of threats can be assigned temporary protection. Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, both said they plan to start carrying a gun in their home districts.
House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood emailed members and their staff Saturday instructing them to alert his office or the Capitol police if lawmakers felt "uncertain" about their safety at public events. Otherwise, security at the Capitol hasn't changed.
Boehner also indicated that congressional business would move forward after a time: "This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty."
A year ago, almost to the day, Boehner dealt with personal tragedy when his chief of staff and confidante Paula Nowakowski died from a heart attack. She was 46.
Now, as speaker, Boehner declined to engage accusations that violent conservative rhetoric created an atmosphere that allowed the horrific events Saturday.
Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., has said he plans to introduce a bill that would ban campaign maps with crosshairs like the one Sarah Palin so controversially used last year that included Giffords' district. Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff in Pima County, Ariz., where the shooting took place, delivered a lecture Saturday, saying, "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous."
Two days before she was shot, Giffords read aloud the First Amendment on the House floor as part of a bipartisan reading of the U.S. Constitution.
Also two days before Giffords was shot, House chaplain Daniel Coughlin offered a prayer to open the first full day of the new Congress. "You, O God, are our refuge and our strength," he prayed. "History has taught us: You are a helper close at hand in times of distress. We shall not fear even when the whole earth is unstable and seems to rock. Our human frailty has revealed that we can easily be shaken. . . . You alone, Lord God, cannot be shaken. Each dawning day finds you as our stronghold."