Democratic lawmakers are increasingly coming out and reporting incidents of harassment in response to their vote for health care reform. In addition to previously reported vandalism in Kansas, New York, Ohio, and Arizona — as well as disturbing threats surrounding Reps. Tom Perriello (D-VA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) — lawmakers have received images of nooses sent to their offices and had their personal information publicly distributed. At least 10 lawmakers have requested extra security after receiving death threats, and Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL) said that “he knows several Democrats who have told their spouses to move out of the home districts while the lawmakers are in Washington.”
The response from the GOP leadership in Washington has been disappointing. They have continued to incite their base with dangerous rhetoric — such as RNC Chairman Michael Steele this week saying that voters should “start getting Nancy ready for the firing line” — and shied away from outright condemnation of the harassment. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said the violence and threats were “unacceptable,” but seemed to encourage the “anger” by telling people to put it into political campaigns: “I know there’s anger, but let’s take that anger and go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, and let’s do it the right way.”
Today, Perriello went on CNN and called out the GOP leadership — in particular, Boehner — for his “offensive” and “outrageous” response:
PERRIELLO: I thought it his statement was fairly outrageous. What he was saying was, for those of you who are threatening people’s children, we want you to channel that anger into the campaign. No, we want those people to go to jail. […]
People doing these things outside of the law, these people need to be prosecuted, not brought into the campaign room. Those who are simply upset about health care and have every right to do so, they need to be part of the political process, in the same way that all of those who support health care do.
Just as disturbing as comments tacitly egging on the anger are ones that blame the Democratic lawmakers themselves for the incidents:
— The spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said that while his organization doesn’t condone the harassment, it should be pointed out that Perriello and others aren’t the real victims. “Central and Southside Virginians are the ones who are going to have the bear the burden of increased taxes,” he said. “What you’re seeing is a frustration among his constituents who believe he’s not listening to them.”
— Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) yesterday about his “response” to the news that Stupak and others had been “threatened or intimidated.” Hatch immediately responded, “People are upset and really angry, and they’re tired of people making promises and not living up to them,” and only after additional questioning by Van Susteren, finally replied, “I think people have to quit doing things like that.”
— Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) condemned the “inappropriate behavior,” but blamed Democrats for “fanning these flames.” “I’m a bit concerned about how it’s been handled around here in a public way because I think it just tends to fan the flames,” he told The Hill.
As Perriello pointed out in his interview today, both Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — a proud Tea Party activist — have issued strong condemnations of the harassment of Perriello and his family.
Q: Are you fearing for the safety of your family and of your brother’s family?
PERRIELLO: I have a lot of confidence in the police and in the law enforcement in the area. I think everyone’s on it now. I think this is important. We’ve had some officials in our state speak up very strongly — the Republican governor of my state, Bob McDonnell, the attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, who is part of the group that thinks this is unconstitutional but agrees very much that the posting of addresses and certainly any threat to property or family is way over the line. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing that same seriousness from the Republican leaders here in Washington. But the most important thing is that we keep our families safe and we keep the Democratic process safe.
Q: Let me ask you what you mean by that. Because House Minority Leader John Boehner did come out and condemn the attacks. He was on television yesterday. He also released a written statement saying, “not the American way,” about about the attacks, the vandalism, the bricks through the windows that we have seen in some of these congressional home offices. This is also what else he said — he said that, basically, you need to channel the anger for positive change, Call your congressman. Go out and register. He called the violence and threats unacceptable. Isn’t that enough?
PERRIELLO: Actually, I thought it his statement was fairly outrageous. What he was saying was, for those of you who are threatening people’s children, we want you to channel that anger into the campaign. No, we want those people to go to jail. That’s what I’m hearing from the Republicans in my district and my state. They understand the difference between someone who is breaking the law and someone who is simply upset about policy. For John Boehner to seem to conflate these two was really quite an outrageous statement.
No — people doing these things outside of the law, these people need to be prosecuted, not brought into the campaign room. Those who are simply upset about health care and have every right to do so, they need to be part of the political process, in the same way that all of those who support health care do. So, I think that many of the folks back home who have been great — even some of my most ardent opponents — about calling this out, that doesn’t seem to be reaching the folks up here in Washington.
Q: Do you think some of your fellow GOP congressmen here are inciting this violence? […]
PERRIELLO: People have to be conscious with what they say. When Mr. Boehner is unable to draw the difference between people who are threatening children and people who simply oppose health care reform, that’s offensive to his own supporters as well as those of us that feel like our families have been put in harm’s way. I don’t think that reality has quite sunk in up here.
First and foremost, we should all be able to agree, whether you are a political leader or TV personality or what have you, that simply saying, this is absolutely unacceptable to harm or threaten to harm a member of their family. This isn’t a partisan thing. This is just a basic American value. I hope we will get stronger and clearer statements up here of that to make sure that that signal is clear.
NRCC released another statement:
Deplorable as it is, we’re not going to allow Tom Perriello to use one isolated incident as a cynical ploy to distract Virginians from the higher taxes and Medicare cuts he just imposed on them. Thousands of Rep. Perriello’s constituents have legitimately expressed their frustration with him via letters, rallies and town hall meetings, and we will always support their right to do so.