House Minority Whip Eric Cantor on Thursday accused Democrats of using threats against lawmakers as “political weapons” for partisan gain, blasting their actions as “reprehensible.”
Cantor, a Virginia Republican, went after two Democrats by name – Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat.
Cantor said he had “deep concern” that Van Hollen and Kaine were “dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.”
“It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain,” Cantor said.
“By ratcheting up the rhetoric, some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels. Enough is enough. It has to stop.”
Van Hollen spokesman Doug Thornell said Cantor “had the opportunity to join Mr. Van Hollen in calling for restraint.”
“Instead, he chose to use his press conference to level false accusations,” Thornell said. “This is straight out of the Republicans’ political playbook of deflecting responsibility and distracting attention away from a serious issue.”
Later Thursday, the number two Republican in the Senate, Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, agreed with Cantor, saying the Democrats were using the incidents for politics and calling it “a shame.”
“Nobody wants anybody to be under threat. There are always a few people out there in the world who do irresponsible things. That’s not the Democrats’ fault, it’s not the Republicans’ fault,” he said. “And so I get a little bit tired of, every time something like that happens, ‘Oh that’s the fault of the Republicans.’”
Cantor said he has received threats regularly since taking elected office both because of his political positions and because he is Jewish, and that just recently his
district campaign office in Richmond had a bullet shot through the window. His office has also received “threatening e-mails” recently, he said.
But he said he does not make these incidents public because he believes that by doing so it will only encourage more of the same.
DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said that Democratic calls for statements from the GOP to condemn violence and threats was “entirely appropriate.”
“Instead of trying to distract from the issue with more attacks, we would ask Mr. Cantor and other Republicans to join Chairman Kaine in working to ratchet down the deplorable behavior and disagree on these issues without appearing disagreeable,” Sevugan said in an e-mailed statement.
Cantor did not take any questions after making his statement. When asked if he would be supporting a bipartisan statement by Democratic and Republican leaders condemning the recent threats against lawmakers, he said, “My statement speaks for itself.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, called for such a statement Thursday on CNN. Hoyer has estimated that around 10 Democrats have been on the receiving end of threats of defacement of their offices since passing health care.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to discuss the rash of publicly reported threats and violent acts against Democratic lawmakers in recent days.
Democrats also complained last weekend that protesters hurled racist and anti-gay epithets at black and gay lawmakers during the last two days of debate over the health bill.
Democrats have begun over the past few days to blame Republican lawmakers directly for some of the violence, saying their attacks on the legislation were in part to blame for violence and threats.
“[Republicans] are going to own part of that. They’re going to own part of the slurs cast at members of Congress, people vandalizing members of Congress’ offices,” Kaine said on MSNBC Wednesday.
Van Hollen said on the same TV network Wednesday that the Republican party needed “some adult supervision.”
But prior to Cantor’s statement Thursday, some Democrats were starting to try to play peacemaker.
Pelosi said Thursday that not all protesters should be “painted with the same brush” by the actions of a few, and some Democratic aides began saying that GOP leaders and Democratic leaders would be issuing a bipartisan statement condemning violence or threats.
Boehner himself said nothing about Democratic gamesmanship in a separate press conference a few minutes before Cantor’s.
“I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill,” Boehner said.
But, he added, “violence and threats are unacceptable. They have no place in a political debate.”
“We need to take that anger and channel it into what I would describe as positive change,” Boehner said.
Even those comments, however, received an angry response from one Democrat.
Rep. Tom Perriello, a Virginia Democrat — whose brother had the gas line to his house cut this week — called Boehner’s comments “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,” Perriello said.