The shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords cast a pall over Capitol Hill this week. House Republicans postponed their vote to repeal the health care law and there were calls for a less rancorous tone in congressional politics.
Republicans will return to their legislative agenda next week. And at their annual retreat in Baltimore on Friday, they talked about how they will do it.
Still, there were plenty of reminders of the past week's events, starting with the large numbers of police and security.
Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois said the solemn tone was especially pronounced among the 80-plus lawmakers in the freshman class.
"There is a seriousness of purpose that has come with their presence. There's no hubris; there's no triumphalism; there's no chest-thumping," he said. "These are people who have come to accomplish something."
Looking Back To 1995
Last year's House GOP retreat was a freewheeling televised event. President Obama was invited and very nearly stole the show with 90 minutes of verbal scuffles with his hosts.
This year, Obama was not invited and the meeting was not televised. But among those who did speak were Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster and message man. Both brought back memories of 1995, when they had just engineered a party takeover of Congress.
This time, though, Republicans were playing down their newfound power.
"We as Republicans do not control this federal government. The other party does," GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor said.
Another one of the weekend's speakers who had a hand in that earlier takeover, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, reiterated the point: "There was a time in 1995 when a lot of people in America seemed to think that we were running the government. In fact, there were some Republicans in Congress who seemed to think we were running the government. I can remember the statement somebody made that Bill Clinton was irrelevant. Well, the Democrats control the Senate. They control the presidency. So we're not running the government. ... But we can try to stop bad things."
Health Care, Fiscal Issues
This time, the emphasis is on managing postelection expectations. Republicans here said the vote to repeal the health care law is important, even if Democrats in the Senate and the White House refuse to go along.
Looming just ahead are difficult votes on fiscal issues. The short-term resolution funding the government through March will force a debate as Republicans seek to make good on a pledge to cut $100 billion in spending.
The government is also approaching its self-imposed debt ceiling, which will need to be raised once again if the U.S. is to continue borrowing and honor its existing debt obligations. But many Republicans vowed to vote against a higher limit in their campaigns, so the GOP is moving carefully, said Florida Rep. Tom Rooney.
"Right now, I think, everybody's sending a cautionary tone that we're worried about making the vote. That's not what the election was about last November," he said. "So, you know, if we can case this vote in a way that sort of also shows our seriousness for getting the debt under control, I think it will be good for our party and good for the country."
Toning It Down
Everyone is talking about toning down the debate in Washington in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings.
Senate Democrat Mark Udall and others are proposing to end the usual partisan divide in the seating of members for the State of the Union address later this month.
Republican Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy says it's an idea worth considering.
"I think the action that you're seeing, where members are now saying, 'Hey, yeah, why don't we sit next to one another? We are all one House.' That's the action that you'll see and it doesn't take a call from somebody," he said. "I think you're going to find that people are willing to do it and wanting to do it and not because someone's out telling them to do it."
But the first test of any change in tone must come as the House once again takes up the health care law -- the one issue that was the most contentious in the last Congress.