D.C. area members of Congress to continue public events despite Arizona shootings

Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head Saturday morning while hosting an event outside a grocery store. Six people died, and 14 were injured.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 5:33 PM

Hours after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others were shot outside a Safeway in Tucson, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) went to a supermarket in his Northern Virginia neighborhood Saturday night to do some shopping.

"A guy with an NRA [National Rifle Association] cap came up to me in the grocery store parking lot," Moran recalled Sunday. "He wanted to get into it."

Moran, an outspoken liberal and advocate of gun control, is accustomed to "getting into it" with conservatives and political opponents. And despite the tragedy that befell Giffords - whom Moran calls a friend - the pugnacious former college football player has no plans to change his usual approach to such situations: "I walk right up to them and I confront them."

Like Moran, other members of the Washington area congressional delegation said Sunday that the Arizona shootings will not change how they do their jobs or diminish their willingness to engage with their constituents in public.

"Congresswoman Giffords was doing exactly what members of congress should be doing all across this country," said Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) "I do coffee conversations and meetings also at our Safeways and Giants."

The attack on Giffords "does give you pause in considering how we do those events and how vigilant we are," Edwards said, but that doesn't mean she'll stop doing them.

Democratic leaders had encouraged House members to host "Congress on Your Corner" events - like Giffords's - to answer constituents' question about such things as Social Security and veterans' benefits and to get them help with specific problems.

"Nobody wants to be a walled-off fortress. Everybody's very determined to continue to be out and about with our constituents. That's a critical part of the job," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who helped create the events for House Democrats four years ago.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said he had done just such an event at a Giant Food store in Dale City just before Election Day and will keep having them in the future.

When you've spent 17 years in public office, Connolly said, inevitably you will see attendees at events who appear to be mentally disturbed. "I've certainly met people who fit in those categories. . . . You just sort of move on," he said.

Threats, many said, are part of the job. When lawmakers get specific threats, they're instructed to notify the Capitol Police and local law enforcement. "We've done that on more than a couple occasions," Edwards said.

Van Hollen said that many lawmakers may want to use the Capitol Police to examine the security in district offices and suggest what they can do to stay safe. For instance, they could install silent arms that instantly alert local police when activated.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company