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Published: Friday, 3/26/2010

Lawmakers condemn threats

BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON - A fax bearing the image of a noose. Profane voice mails. Bricks thrown, a gas line cut. White powder sent to an office.

Democrats and a few Republicans revealed mounting numbers and unsettling details of threats against them yesterday in the emotional aftermath of the passage of the health-care overhaul.

Lawmakers uniformly condemned the harassment, but that's where the agreement ended. Democrats said Republicans were slow to condemn the vigilantism, while Republicans said Democrats were playing politics with the threats.

"By ratcheting up the rhetoric, some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. "Enough is enough. It has to stop."

At least 10 Democrats now have reported harassment, including incidents involving at least four of their offices in New York, Arizona, and Kansas. More frequent have been obscenity-laced, sometime-threatening phone messages. An undisclosed number of lawmakers have been given increased police protection.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg) House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
HARRY HAMBURG / AP Enlarge

Among those reporting incidents is U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D., Mich.), who notified the Capitol police about a phone call he received expressing the wish that he would die slowly, and at a young age, because of his support of the health-care bill, a spokesman said yesterday.

Mr. Schauer's office provided the news media with audio copies of the phone call from a person in the Western Michigan area code of 616.

"I hope you die a slow death at a very young age," the caller said in the voice mail, giving his full name, of which only his first name, Bob, was clear. "I would really like to have a conversation with you," Bob said.

A spokesman said later that Bob was reached on the phone number he left and was "very contrite."

"It's unfortunate that the level of discourse in this country has deteriorated to the point where members of Congress, their families, and staff have received threats of violence over a vote that will ultimately help fix our broken health care system," Mr. Schauer, a Democrat, said in a release yesterday.

Spokesman Zach Pohl said the call came from outside Mr. Schauer's 7th Congressional District, which includes the counties of Lenawee and Hillsdale.

Mr. Pohl said Mr. Schauer previously received two threats indicating he should "be hung for being a traitor" and that "he needs to have a necktie party," apparently referring to a type of mob hit.

Yesterday, two Republicans said they, too, had been menaced.

No arrests have been reported. A threat to assault a member of Congress in retaliation for the performance of official duties is punishable by up to a year in prison.

Mr. Cantor said he has received e-mail threats and that a bullet struck the window of his campaign office building in Richmond. But Richmond police said the bullet apparently had been randomly fired skyward.

House Republican leader John Boehner met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the incidents and both condemned them.

Ms. Pelosi was careful to avoid blaming Republicans directly for inciting the harassment, though she said that words "weigh a ton."

Mr. Boehner followed moments later. While many are angry over the health care measure, he said, "threats and violence should not be part of a political debate."

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R., Ohio) released a recording of a voice mail she said she received in which a man repeatedly accuses Republicans of being racists.

Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, one of eight Democrats who switched to "yes" on the most recent vote, also said he had received threats.



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