Top Republican leaders have accused Democrats of trying to politicize the recent spate of violent threats against legislators who supported health care reform. The threats—which have ranged from cut gas lines to a coffin placed on the lawn of one House member—have fueled security concerns, leading some Democratic lawmakers to fear for their families. In response, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and other top Democrats have slammed Republicans for “stoking the flames” of violence by cheering on protesters and propagating myths about the bill—a charge that Republicans have fiercely disavowed and characterized as a political gambit.
And now Republicans are pushing back. Shortly after the Senate voted along party lines on Thursday to approve the reconciliation bill tweaking the health care reform package, Sen. Jon Kyl, the Republican minority whip, huffed about the Democrats blaming GOPers for the violent reactions to the passage of the health care legislation: “I get a bit tired of–every time something like that happens [Democrats say], ‘Oh, it’s the fault of the Republicans. That’s baloney. It’s a shame, because nobody wants anybody to be under threat. There are always a few people out there in the world who do irresponsible things.”
When asked what he would say to constituents who felt like venting their anger, Kyl responded, “Don’t throw a brick through somebody’s window—that’s not the way to resolve your political differences.”
Kyl’s comments echoed remarks made by his counterpart in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who maintained that Democrats were not only politicizing the threats, but also “dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.” Cantor also added that he himself had been the target of violence, mentioning that a shot had been fired at his campaign office. (Details of the incident have yet to be confirmed.)
A few top Democrats have said that they don’t think that the Republicans are directly causing the threats. “I don’t subscribe that these acts sprang from any words of my colleagues,” Pelosi said Thursday. She noted that Republican cheers for a protester ejected for disrupting Sunday’s health care debate in the House were “inappropriate” but not “directly provoking.”
But the Democratic National Committee hasn’t backed off its accusation that top Republicans “have contributed in part to this anger by wildly mischaracterizing the substance and motives of health reform.” And Democratic allies have piled on. Citing the Tea Party protest outside the Capitol during Sunday’s vote, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka issued a statement Thursday condemning Republican leaders for “egg[ing] on hateful crowds like giddy teenagers, waving signs and chanting to fire up the protesters. They set the foundation for a dangerous climate, and they must take the lead in stopping it.”
Once empowered by the popular protests, Republicans are now at risk of being tainted by a hateful, racist, and violent fringe—the size of which is just about impossible to measure. But as the GOP remains on the defensive after its historic defeat on health care reform, it’s unclear whether party members will decide to distance themselves from the angry mob. (On Thursday, Cantor was scheduled to take part in a conference call organized by the S.T.O.P. Obama Tyranny National Coalition, a collection of conservative groups, but he ended up not participating.) In the meantime, Democrats are attempting to use the death threats and violence to their advantage. As Ben Smith notes, they’re already trying to raise funds off the latest incidents.