WASHINGTON — The office of Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) received an enveloped today filled with a “suspicious white powder” as well as a letter that “could be interpreted as threatening,” according to the FBI.
The incident is another in a rash incidents attracting numerous media outlets – a voicemail left on the phone of Rep. Jean Schmidt; a fax bearing the image of a noose; a bullet through a window; bricks thrown; a gas line cut.
Democrats and a few Republicans revealed new details of threats against them Thursday in the aftermath of the passage of the health care overhaul. They uniformly condemned the harassment, but that’s where the agreement ended. Democrats said Republicans were slow to condemn the vigilantism, while Republicans said Democrats inspired retaliation.
“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.”
Reports by at least 10 Democrats of harassment this week have been followed by Democratic complaints that GOP leaders were slow to condemn the incidents.
At least four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas were struck, and at least 10 members of Congress have reported threats, including obscenity-laced phone messages and a fax bearing the image of a noose, congressional leaders have said.
On Thursday, 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.
House historian Fred Beuttler said there have been few acts of violence against lawmakers over legislation. The worst occurred in 1954 when four Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber, wounding five members. A cross was burned on Speaker Sam Rayburn’s front lawn in Texas during debate on civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
This week, hate-filled rants have been showing up in voice mails, e-mail boxes and on fax machines of lawmakers since the House approved the health care bill 219-212 Sunday night. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Tuesday. A package of fixes to the new law was winding through Congress Thursday on the brink of a two-week recess that begins on Monday.
On one point Thursday, there was bipartisan agreement: No act of Congress — health care reform or anything else — merits threats of violence against lawmakers or their families.
House Republican leader John Boehner met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the incidents and both condemned them.
Pelosi was careful to avoid blaming Republicans directly for inciting the harassment, though she said that words “weigh a ton.” Such threats of retaliation “have no place in a civil debate in our country,” she said.
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.”
The fact that lawmakers were being harassed took attention away from the package of fixes to the health care law.
Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, released a recording of a voicemail she said she received in which a man repeatedly accuses Republicans of being racists.
Cantor, meanwhile, said a bullet struck the window of his campaign office building in Richmond. Police said the bullet was fired from a distance and broke the window — but didn’t penetrate the blinds inside — on a steep downward trajectory.
The office is in a generally safe part of the city, but about a half mile to a mile south of some of Richmond’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Cantor said the House’s Democratic campaign chairman, Chris Van Hollen and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine incited retribution against Republicans by telling The Huffington Post that the GOP would “own” responsibility for retaliatory slurs.
“It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain,” Cantor told reporters.
Schmidt, meanwhile, released a tape of a profanity-laced phone message in which the caller said Republicans were racists and, referring to an accident two years ago when Schmidt was hit by a car while jogging, said, “You should have broke your back.”
Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, one of eight Democrats who switched to “yes” on the most recent House vote, said he had received threats.
E-mails sent to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., another member who switched her vote, urged her to commit suicide and said she and her family should rot in hell.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and chairwoman of an influential House committee, said someone had left her a voicemail that used the word “snipers.”
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 had pledged 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.
“I hope you bleed … (get) cancer and die,” one male caller told the congressman between curses.
A fax carried a picture of a gallows with “Bart (SS) Stupak” on it and a noose. It was captioned, “All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God.”
And in Virginia, someone cut a propane line leading to a grill at the Charlottesville home of 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.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer told The Associated Press Thursday that there was “no evidence that annoying, harassing or threatening telephone calls or e-mails are coordinated.”
Associated Press writers Robert Lewis in Richmond, 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 Ann Sanner in Washington contributed to this report.