WASHINGTON – Republicans took to the House floor Thursday to plead with those who oppose the Democratic health care overhaul to refrain from violence and threats.
Opposition to the health care bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday is "no excuse for bigotry, threats or acts of vandalism and I condemn such things in the strongest possible terms," said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the House's third-ranked Republican.
"Some of our colleagues have received threatening phone calls. A brick has been thrown, a window has been smashed. This is not the right way to respond," added Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., a leading anti-abortion lawmaker.
The remarks came a day after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democratic lawmakers were worried about their own safety and their families because of a rash of threats that followed the House vote Sunday sending the landmark health care legislation to the president.
While not directly criticizing Republicans, Hoyer warned against lawmakers against encouraging protesters into acts that might cross the line into threatening behavior.
"The bottom line is, we need to be very careful in public life that our rhetoric doesn't incite to violent acts," the Maryland Democrat said Thursday on a network morning news show. He said dealing with difficult issues in a civil and peaceful manner is "at the core of our democracy."
The FBI is working with lawmakers subjected to menacing obscenity-laced phone messages. In some instances, bricks were hurled through congressional offices, including Rep. Louise Slaughter's district headquarters in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
At least four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas were struck and at least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threats, congressional leaders have said. No arrests had been made as of late Wednesday, but the FBI is still investigating.
Hoyer had said Wednesday that lawmakers who felt at risk were to get attention "from the proper authorities." He declined to say whether any were receiving extra security. Normally only those in leadership positions have personal security guards.
Slaughter, a Democrat, is chairwoman of an influential House committee. She said someone had left her a voice mail that used the word "snipers."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said "it's an effort to kind of hijack the debate by coercive elements. I'm glad the Republican leadership colleagues denounce it. But they were very late to do that."
Hoyer on Thursday did not single out any member of Congress or political party as having made statements that could encourage such acts. But he did say he thought some of the rhetoric "has been far beyond legitimate debate."
"In our democracy," he said, "we resolve things, not through violence, not at the point of a gun. If we don't do that, we will devolve into a society that we're not going to like."
"It is unacceptable in America," said Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican said angry citizens should channel their rage into voter registration for the next election and efforts to repeal the health care law.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement that while many Americans are angry over the bill's passage, "violence and threats are unacceptable."
Some of the anger spilled over in a flood of threat-filled phone and fax messages to the office of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Stupak vowed to oppose the health care package unless given greater assurance that it would not allow federal funding of elective abortions. He voted in favor after the administration agreed.
Stupak's office released some of the messages, declining further comment.
"I hope you bleed ... (get) cancer and die," one male caller told the congressman between curses.
A fax with the title "Defecating on Stupak" carried a picture of a gallows with "Bart (SS) Stupak" on it and a noose attached. It was captioned, "All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God."
The vandalism and threats surprised a researcher at a think tank that monitors extremist groups.
"I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism," said Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
Hoyer said earlier that people have yelled that Democratic lawmakers should be put on firing lines and posters have appeared with the faces of lawmakers in the cross hairs of a target.
While not directly criticizing Republicans directly, he said "any show of appreciation for such actions encourages such action."
Gun imagery was used in a posting on the Facebook page of Sarah Palin urging people to organize against 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and whose districts went for the John McCain-Palin ticket two years ago. Palin's post featured a U.S. map with circles and cross hairs over the 20 districts.
McCain defended Palin Thursday, saying it was commonplace practice and "part of the lexicon" to refer to "targeted" congressional districts.
In Virginia, someone cut a propane line leading to a grill at the Charlottesville home of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's brother after the address was posted online by activists angry about the health care overhaul. Perriello also said a threatening letter was sent to his brother's house. The FBI and local authorities were investigating.
Tea party activists had posted the brother's address online thinking it was the congressman's home. The post urged opponents to drop by and "express their thanks" for the Democrat's vote in favor of the sweeping health care reform.
Nigel Coleman, chairman of the Danville Tea Party, said he re-posted the comment that originated on another conservative blog, including the address, Monday on his Facebook page. The posts were taken down after the mistake was discovered.
"We've never been associated with any violence or any vandalism," he said. "We're definitely sorry that we posted the incorrect address."
Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., David N. Goodman in Detroit, Dena Potter and Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y., Mark Carlson in Phoenix and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.
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