Arizona shootings have immediate impact on the political conversation in Washington

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 9:52 PM

This was supposed to be the week of another "showdown" in Congress. Now, the very word makes politicians squeamish.

The shootings in Arizona resounded in Washington with a deep and immediate impact on the political conversation. As is the case with such shocking collective national moments, the attacks prompted a dramatic - if temporary - stand-down in the partisan battles that have consumed the capital.

Instead of a vote to repeal President Obama's health-care law, Republican leaders in the House have scheduled prayers and security briefings. On Sunday talk shows, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle stressed their friendships and mutual respect. One freshman House member suggested more hugs, less name-calling.

Web sites that featured politicians as targets were scrubbed, and rhetoric softened.

It is prime time for groups such as Third Way, of which critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is an honorary co-chairman, and No Labels, which call for Republicans and Democrats to back off their partisan impulses and angry tone.

"Politics has become too personal, too nasty and perhaps too dangerous," Third Way President Jonathan Cowan said in a statement.

"We are heartened by the outpouring of concern and respect from all corners of the political world. Perhaps out of this senseless act some sense can return to our public discourse."

The scolding came from outside Washington as well. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, where the shootings occurred, was being applauded for condemning "all this vitriol" in the nation's political discourse.

"This may be free speech, but it's not without consequences," Dupnik said at a press briefing.

There is, at this point, no evidence that the suspect in Saturday's shootings that left six dead and Giffords and 13 others wounded was influenced by inflammatory political rhetoric, or that any voices that motivated him were outside his own head.

But the attacks have prompted soul-searching among some, and a belief from legislative leaders that unified actions rather than divisive votes should mark their public response.

"This is a time for the House to lock arms, both in condemnation of this heinous act and in prayer for those killed and wounded in this attack," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a conference call joined by an extraordinary 800 people - members of Congress and their spouses and staffers.

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