Even Politicians Couldn't Find Words

A flag outside the Capitol flies at half-staff.
A flag outside the Capitol flies at half-staff. (By Carol T. Powers -- Bloomberg News)
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Long-shot presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich did his part to comfort a grieving nation yesterday.

The Democratic congressman from Ohio announced that he had shut down his campaign Web site for 24 hours, a virtual moment of silence for the dead in Blacksburg, Va. Down went the photos and articles at http://kucinich.us, replaced by a picture of a white lily and a tribute to "the victims at Virginia Tech, and all those who are affected by violence every day."

Sharon Jimenez, Kucinich's press secretary, said that when the candidate called to order the site taken down, "we were all like, 'What?' "

In his usual flamboyant way, the congressman captured the mood of official Washington as it sought to respond to the killings: The nation's leaders wanted to act, but they had no obvious course of action.

The day after the Columbine killings in 1999, the Clinton administration called on Congress to approve new gun-control measures, and Democratic lawmakers vowed to step up their efforts to get legislation passed. But this time, Democrats have neither the votes nor the appetite for stricter gun laws, and it is not clear whether proposed restrictions would have prevented the killings.

The result was an unofficial day of mourning, as lawmakers and candidates canceled events -- respecting the dead and also accepting the reality that nothing else was going to make news anyway.

The White House canceled its daily briefing and President Bush flew to Blacksburg for a gathering. The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed its much-anticipated hearing with the attorney general. The Senate intelligence committee delayed its session with the director of national intelligence. House Democrats called off a news conference following their weekly caucus meeting. House Republicans shelved an event marking tax day.

Interest groups got the hint. The Family Research Council canceled a news conference it had called to oppose hate-crimes legislation. The Impeach '07 Coalition even postponed an event on Capitol Hill calling for Bush's impeachment.

The presidential candidates entered into a bipartisan cancellation pact: Mitt Romney thought better of appearing at the Virginia Republican Party's Spring Fling, Rudy Giuliani decided not to make a stop at Pat Robertson's Regent University and John McCain put off a speech.

"With all of the cancellations today, the only notable political event is [Sen. Barack] Obama's foreign policy speech in Chicago," NBC News noted yesterday morning. The Illinois Democrat promptly called off the speech.

A minority of Democrats said they would push for new gun laws. But the notion frightened Democratic senators as they emerged from the party's weekly lunch meeting.

"Way, way, way too insensitive and way, way, way premature," announced Sen. Jon Tester (Mont).

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