Lawmakers concerned as health-care overhaul foes resort to violence

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010

The pitched battle over health care has unleashed a rash of vandalism and attacks directed at politicians, with at least 10 House Democrats reporting death threats or incidents of harassment or vandalism at their district offices over the past week.

More than 100 House Democrats met behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon with representatives of the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police. The lawmakers voiced what one senior aide who was present described as "serious concern" about their security in Washington and in their home districts when they return this weekend for the spring recess.

Usually only the congressional leadership has regular personal protection from the Capitol Police. But at least 10 lawmakers have been offered increased protection by law enforcement agencies, said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

Asked whether members are endangered, Hoyer said: "Yes. [There are] very serious incidents that have occurred."

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer e-mailed senators and staffers Wednesday telling them to "remain vigilant." Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief, said in an interview that the warning was meant to "assuage people's fears."

But House Democrats say they are unnerved.

"Our democracy is about participation," Hoyer said. "Our democracy is about differing and debate and animated debate and passionate debate. But it is not about violence."

The vandalism began last weekend, when the House debated the health bill for final passage. In Wichita, someone broke the window of a county Democratic Party headquarters with a brick that had "No to Obama" and "No ObamyCare" written on it. Lyndsey Stauble, executive director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, said she went to work Saturday morning to clean up the shattered glass around her desk.

"It was surprising and alarming to know that people, when they have so many opportunities for expression in this country, that somebody would resort to a brick," Stauble said.

Over the next 24 hours, thrown bricks shattered the glass doors and windows of party headquarters from Rochester, N.Y., to Cincinnati. A propane gas line at the Charlottesville home of Rep. Tom Perriello's brother was severed Tuesday after a self-identified "tea party" activist posted what he believed to be the Virginia Democrat's address on a Web site and urged opponents to "drop by" to convey their opposition to his yes vote on the health bill.

A brick was thrown through the Niagara Falls district office of Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who also received a threatening voice-mail message referring to sniper attacks. The front door to the Tucson district office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shattered. And Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), whose last-minute negotiations to bar federal funding of abortion helped secure the bill's passage, received a fax with a drawing of a noose and an anonymous voice mail saying: "You're dead. We know where you live. We'll get you."

In Washington on Wednesday, the attacks were roundly condemned, with some congressional leaders wondering whether the long fight over health care had unleashed an ugly dimension to the modern political discourse.

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