After a gunman with apparent left-wing political beliefs fired shots at congressional Republicans’ baseball practice Wednesday morning, lawmakers and commentators across the political spectrum were quick to blame an increasingly tense rhetorical landscape — a national mood in which sharp words can too easily metamorphose into violence.
A few Republicans eagerly accused the left of stoking the fires of political rage.
“The violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told a Washington Post reporter Wednesday.
Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.) said, “There’s a segment of the media that thinks it’s okay to talk about violence against Republicans, and they laugh it off and think it’s funny stuff.”
Other conservative voices have pointed to comedian Kathy Griffin’s photo shoot of a mock decapitation of President Trump, or out-of-context remarks from Democratic lawmakers calling for more aggressive activism.
Other Republicans — notably Reps. Rodney Davis (Ill.) and Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (Tenn.), who were present at the shooting — issued nonpartisan calls for everyone to turn down the political temperature.
But several Democratic lawmakers were hardly ready to concede Thursday that the issue is more prevalent on the left — or even that it is a pox infecting both parties’ houses equally.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday summarily rejected the notion that rising tensions can be laid equally at the feet of both parties.
“It didn’t used to be this way,” she said. “Somewhere in the ’90s, Republicans decided on a politics of personal destruction as they went after the Clintons. And that is the provenance of it. And that’s what has continued.”
She called the suggestions by King and others that left-wing rhetoric sparked Wednesday’s attack “outrageous, beneath the dignity of the job that they hold, beneath the respect that we would like Congress to command.”
“How dare they say such a thing?” Pelosi said, drawing a link between GOP attack ads targeting her politics and vulgar, threatening phone calls and online messages directed at her personally. “Probably as we sit here, they’re running caricatures of me in Georgia once again . . . vitriolic things that they say that result in calls to my home constantly, threats in front of my grandchildren, really predicated on their comments and their paid ads.”
“This sick individual does something despicable, and it was horrible what he did, hateful — but for them to all of a sudden be sanctimonious as if they never seen such a thing before,” she said, recalling her experience reviewing her phone messages after her number was publicly disseminated though a 2016 hack of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“I have scores of horrible, disgusting, yucky messages, a lot of them toward me, a lot of them toward Hillary Clinton, a lot of them toward Barack Obama, and using language that is from some of their messages that they have put out,” she said. “So let us all take a step back, examine our own conscience, see what negative attitudes we can all curtail. But the sanctimony of it all. Really. Really?”
Pelosi and two other prominent House Democrats said Trump ought to shoulder a disproportionate share of the blame for coarsening the public discourse.
“I’ve never had confrontations and fights at my rallies,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “I’ve never said to drag somebody out of my rallies. We don’t need to point fingers, but it starts at the top, then it comes to Congress, and everyone could do a better job of watching what they’re saying, including me.”
“I think everyone has a responsibility. It starts with the president of the United States and then goes on,” Richmond continued. “If you have two eyes, you see that the way the last two presidents conducted themselves is totally different when it comes to things of that nature.”
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the assistant Democratic leader, echoed that assessment, saying that “the president contributed to this significantly.” Clyburn said he has been subject to escalating, vitriolic attacks since Obama was elected president.
“We have a presidential candidate who is allowed to hide behind political correctness to say all kinds of things about people,” Clyburn said, referring to Trump. “I’m a little bit sick and tired of people saying anything they want to say about anybody they want to say it about and say, ‘Well, I’m not politically correct.’ Political correctness has got nothing to do with good manners. It’s just stupid stuff.”
“If you would like to come to my office, my district office,” he added. “I can show you some of the letters that I have framed and I keep over my desk for anybody who would want to think this is something about left-wingers.”