House Pays Tribute To Victims Of Arizona shooting

It's a day of tributes and condolences in the U.S. House, where lawmakers are paying tribute to the victims of last Saturday's violence in Tucson. They are extolling their colleague Gabrielle Giffords, and they're saying lawmakers should remain accessible to constituents despite security concerns — and perhaps should tone done the rhetoric.

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On Capitol Hill this week, all legislative business was taken off the table, all except for one thing - a resolution today honoring the victims of the Tucson shooting. Lawmakers gathered on the floor for the first time since Saturday's shooting, which left six people dead and 14 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

As NPR's Audie Cornish reports, it was a moment for condolences and reflection.

AUDIE CORNISH: House Resolution Number 32 encompassed many things. The clerk read off condolences to the families of the victims, a condemnation of the violence and an affirmation of democratic principles.

P: Whereas Christina Taylor Greene, Dorothy Morris, John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Gabriel Zimmerman lost their lives in this attack...

Seven, reaffirms the bedrock principle of American democracy and representative government which is memorialized in the First Amendment of the Constitution...

Nine, honors the service and leadership of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a distinguished member of this House, as she courageously fights to recover.

CORNISH: Speaker of the House John Boehner set the tone with a tearful call for lawmakers to come together.

JOHN BOEHNER: The needs of this institution have always risen above partisanship. And what this institution needs right now is strength, wholly and uplifting strength, the strength to grieve with the families of the fallen, to pray for the wounded and to turn a way forward, no matter how painful and difficult it may be.

CORNISH: And minority leader Nancy Pelosi was among those who offered prayers for the health of Congresswoman Giffords.

NANCY PELOSI: She came to Congress full of ideas and we will long continue to be blessed by them, look forward to when she is present with us on the floor. She has spoken out courageously and led boldly when the times demanded it.

CORNISH: But the debate was also peppered with calls from some Democratic leaders to temper the political rhetoric that has come to define Congress.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

STENY HOYER: We do not know, of course, the specific motive which led the perpetrator of this crime to act, nor can we draw conclusions as to specific causes. But it seems to me it is a time for us to reflect on the heightened anger being projected on our public debate and the daily denigration of those with whom we disagree.

CORNISH: Indiana Republican Mike Pence, however, said that while democracy relies on heavy doses of civility, lawmakers should not fear free and open debate.

MIKE PENCE: No expressed opinion on the left or the right was to blame for Saturday's attack. And we must resist efforts to suggest otherwise, because to do so has the potential to inhibit and erode our freedom.

CORNISH: Here and there, there were calls for changes in gun laws but policy debates were not the order of the day. When lawmakers weren't on the floor paying their respects, they were in closed-door security briefings with Capitol law enforcement, getting tips about security precautions they should consider for their next events back home in their districts.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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