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Arizona shootings have immediate impact on the political conversation in Washington

"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."

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the shootings, whatever their motivation, will cause politicians to more closely examine their rhetoric.

"I don't think there's any doubt but my colleagues are very concerned about the environment in which they are now operating," Hoyer said. "It's been a much angrier, confrontational environment over the last two or three years than we have experienced in the past. I think there is worry about that."

Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.) said Sunday night that he plans to introduce a bill that would give members of Congress and federal officials the same protections from threatening language and symbolism that are afforded to the president under Title 18, Section 871 of the U.S. Code.

"It's not a wake-up call, it's a four-alarmer," Brady said of the Tucson shootings, adding that he last spoke with Giffords on Friday, the day before the attacks. Asked about the cross-hairs imagery used by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's PAC during the 2010 midterm elections, Brady said the imagery was an example of how political rhetoric and discourse have taken a turn for the negative.

"I think we should make it that people can't do that," he said. "There was a cross hair on Gabby Giffords, and where's she at now? . . . I don't know if we're giving people ideas by doing something like that, but we've got to do something to make that criminal."

Palin supporters said it was ridiculous to believe that the map, now removed from the Internet, could incite violence.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) mentioned Palin on CNN and her evocative message of "don't retreat; reload."

"These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," Durbin said.

Republicans said that was nonsense, and conservative activists noted that violent language was a staple of political rhetoric, equally employed by Democrats and Republicans.

To wit: Barack Obama's tough talk at a Philadelphia fundraiser in 2008 about how he would take the battle to the GOP: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."

Some commentators said the debate was silly.

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