Federal officials inject themselves in the debate over Metro safety. Maryland state lawmakers spar over early voting sites in Montgomery County. And Pope Francis' representatives in D.C. make a last-minute plea for a death row inmate in Virginia.
Many lawmakers travel with little security, and pride themselves on their ability to meet directly with constituents. That freedom is now in question following the Saturday shooting of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people at an Arizona shopping center. We’ll talk with members of our local Congressional delegations about the security issues arising from that shooting.
- Gerald Connolly Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-VA, 11th District);
- Donna Edwards Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MD, 4th Congressional District)
- Andy Harris Member, U.S. House of Representatives (R-MD, 1st District)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, water safety in Washington. We talked with the man in charge of keeping D.C.'s drinking supply safe, but first, Tucson, Arizona. It was an everyday scene this past weekend that quickly turned into a tragedy, a member of Congress holding a supermarket meet-and-greet. It ended with gunfire, a rampage that left six people dead and 14 wounded, including Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic representative who was shot in the head and is now fighting for her life.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe're joined this hour by members of Congress from the Washington region to explore what this weekend's shootings mean for House citizens can expect to interact with their representatives in the future, and what needs to be done to keep our lawmakers safe. Joining us by telephone is Andy Harris. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a Republican from Maryland. He joins us by telephone. Congressman Harris, thank you for joining us.
REP. ANDY HARRISThank you for having me on the show.
NNAMDIDonna Edwards is also a member of the House of Representatives. She is a Democrat from Maryland. Congresswoman Edwards, thank you for joining us.
REP. DONNA EDWARDSThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDICongresswoman Edwards, help me with the pronunciation of the first name of Congresswoman Giffords. Is it Gabrielle or Gabrielle?
EDWARDSIt's Gabrielle, and those of us who know her -- I sit next to her on the Science and Technology Committee -- as Gabby, smart, talented, effective Gabby.
NNAMDIThank you for that. As you know, many members of Congress use very little security when traveling in their district. What's your strategy when it comes to security in public places? First you, Congressman Harris.
HARRISWell, what we're gonna do is we're gonna follow the advice of the sergeant at arms, and when we hold meetings where we're meeting with the public, we're gonna continue to do that. But we're gonna make sure that we've coordinated with local law enforcement and, you know, come to a decision whether any kind of enhanced security would be necessary. But what we don't want to have happen is for this to cause people to either be afraid to come and be heard or for, you know, the members of Congress to be afraid to go among the people.
NNAMDICongresswoman Edwards, your strategy?
EDWARDSWell, you know, Kojo, I held coffee conversations in my congressional districts and meetings at our grocery stores every month, and I have since I've been Congress, and I think it's important for us to be vigilant. But for me, representing the Fourth Congressional District, it's also really important both for me and for my district for me to be able to be out and meet and greet constituents, and we'll take the advice of law enforcement. And we've had a great relationship with law enforcement in Prince George's and Montgomery County. When we've needed them, we'd called them, and they've helped us. But I already have a schedule of coffee conversations through the first quarter of this year. We've sent that out through the district, and I will be doing them.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or by going to our website, kojoshow.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow or an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're talking about the shootings in Arizona this past weekend. Congressman Harris, will you be making any changes in your personal security as a result of this shooting? A lot of people, of course, are going to be debating whether or not this is the result of our increasingly volatile political rhetoric, or -- on the one hand, or on the other hand, whether it's because so many people have access to handguns? And I've heard a report where some members of Congress say that they intend to arm themselves when they go out on these meetings for their own security. Are you one such member?
HARRISWell, we're certainly gonna evaluate any possibility to make sure, again, that especially the staff that's around -- that the public will be safe when they go to these meetings. And, you know, we're gonna sit down -- again, we have a briefing tomorrow with the Capitol Police and the sergeant at arms. It's gonna go over all kinds of security measures that can and should be taken. And we, you know, personally, I will probably step up security wherever I travel and at home. And we'll have to see where that leads, but, again, the bottom line is we don't want to have happen is, you know, people to be afraid to come out and speak to their representatives or for our staff to be in danger.
NNAMDIWhen you say you'll step up personal security, do you intend to be armed when you are in public at such meetings? Do you think that will help with your personal security?
HARRISYou know, we haven't made that decision. We certainly think that we will -- we have 12 counties in the District. We're gonna be consulting with law enforcement in all the counties to see what their recommendations are and then come to a decision with, you know, within the next few weeks, but, you know, we have -- we will -- we want to be certain that we have security not, again, not only for ourselves personally so much as for the people who come because, you know, there were -- in this tragic event, there were members of the public as well as congressional staff who were killed, and we certainly don't want that to be repeated anywhere.
NNAMDICongresswoman Edwards, what do you plan on doing in terms of your personal security as a result of this shooting? Do you plan on arming yourself?
EDWARDSWell, I'd -- well, first of all, I'm not planning to arm myself, and under Maryland law, I won't be carrying a weapon either, and I don't actually know -- for me, others can make their judgment, but I don't think that that's, you know, a response that works for us in the Fourth Congressional District and in the state of Maryland. I do think that we want to consult with law enforcement. We want to make sure that we're in touch with them when there are credible threats in our office or we feel uncomfortable with our own security and with that of our staff in the public. And I did that last summer during the health care debates, and our police departments in Prince George's and Montgomery County were tremendously helpful to us, but we still held the town hall meetings that we did, and we'll continue having coffee conversations and going out to senior centers and libraries and grocery stores and, you know, touching and feeling the public in a way that's safe but meets our public responsibility.
EDWARDSI think, you know, we all need to, obviously, assess what's gone on, and we can't make judgments about the motives of the gentleman in Arizona who committed this horrible, horrible crime, but, you know, we'll look out for our security as it needs to be and take responsible steps that make sure that we can continue also to meet our public responsibility.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Congresswoman Donna Edwards, she's a Democrat from Maryland, and Congressman Andy Harris. He's a Republican from Maryland. Congressman Harris, were you or members of your staff on the conference call with Speaker John Boehner yesterday? What are your thoughts on the mood of Congress as a whole right now?
HARRISWell, I was on the conference call, and, you know, we did get updated on many issues including security. And again, I think we're gonna wait. You know, we're -- again, we have a briefing tomorrow, Wednesday, rather, in Washington, and I think we're still waiting to hear what the opinion of other folks are in terms of what security measures we should take, but, of course, it would be natural for congressmen and women and their staff to be concerned about this. It's a tragedy, and again, we just don't want it repeated anywhere else.
NNAMDIDonna Edwards, do you anticipate that there will be changes in security for lawmakers either in their home districts or when they're here in Washington?
EDWARDSI think that -- well, I mean, we will be really vigilant, I think, about that security and each of us able to consult with the Capitol Police and with the experts so that we know how best to protect ourselves, our staff and the public and continue to represent people. I mean, my heart right now, just as everybody's does, goes out to Congresswoman Giffords, to her staff, to those who are still struggling and who lost their lives and to the innocent victims. And I think this is just another reminder to us that, you know, public service is an important responsibility. And I was with all of our young people and our staff at a retreat this weekend, and it was, you know, they serve too, and so we'll do what's necessary but also fulfill our obligations with the public. And I like being out in the public, and I don't want anything to unnecessarily stand in the way of my ability to hear directly from the people of the Fourth Congressional District, so I'll see them at the coffee conversations.
NNAMDICongresswoman Edwards, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIDonna Edwards is a Democrat from Maryland. Joining us now by telephone is Congressman Gerald Connolly. He is a Democrat from Virginia. Congressman Connolly, thank you for joining us.
REP. GERALD CONNOLLYMy pleasure, Kojo. Good to be back with you.
NNAMDICongressman Connolly, do you expect to be making any changes in your personal security as a result of this shooting?
CONNOLLYNo. No. You know, this isn't about us. This is about a tragedy that occurred in Arizona, and I think we need to know a lot more information before we arrive at conclusions about what has to change, but certainly, there are some things we know that do need to change. I think political rhetoric has gotten grossly overheated in America, and I think it's time for all of us to step back and, you know, think about our own personal responsibility or how we've contributed to the vitriol that the sheriff in Tucson referred to. He's not wrong. And secondly, frankly, we need to better understand how this individual got access to a semiautomatic weapon, given his mental health issues, and past brushes with the law. And so I think we need to be looking at those two things, but in terms of our personal security, you know, we can't let one terrorist act deter public officials from interacting with and providing access to the public they serve.
NNAMDICongressman Andy Harris is still with us. Congressman Harris, we'll be talking in the next hour about civility and the tone of discourse in Washington. Our political rhetoric may or may not have influenced the shooter in this particular instance, but I'm wondering in general how would you characterize the tone of our politics or our political rhetoric today?
HARRISWell, you know, Kojo, it's hard to say whether, you know, what effect any of that has. Certainly, political rhetoric has been around since Colonial times, you know, tar and feathering occurred in Colonial times. Certainly, political discourse and the First Amendment rights should never be infringed. I think that that would be the wrong approach to take, which some have already suggested, and some have suggested that, you know, that bills should be filed that penalize people who in some way have, you know, it's kind of hate crime legislation for political rhetoric, and that would be chilling. I think that that would be the wrong approach to take.
HARRISCertainly, you know, we need to increase security. We need -- we will need to, and, you know, the short response to your question about, well, will our security go up? Sure, our security will go up. Every congressman and woman's security will be enhanced following this event, but that's just the nature of the times we live in. Regardless of political rhetoric, violent crimes with people who feel that somehow, you know, they go out and really mass murder occurs more often now, and it's a societal issue far more than just political rhetoric.
NNAMDII'm wondering, Congressman Connolly, about whether or not we always react to these things in a very visceral way and we are all saddened by what happened this weekend, but I'm wondering about the long-term effects of this. Do you think, Congressman Connolly, that on the upside, the shooting may open the door for greater bipartisanship in our political dialogue in Congress?
CONNOLLYWell, what a hard way to achieve it, but if that were the outcome, that certainly would be a good thing. And again, I guess, I want to respond to what my new colleague just had to say, I certainly -- I join with him there can't be restrictions to the First Amendment. What I'm commenting upon is those of us who are in the business and those of you in the media have a responsibility to make sure that we're careful about our rhetoric. We have to remember that even when we're speaking in overinflated metaphor that there are some who are gonna hear it or see it and interpret it literally.
CONNOLLYAnd so we need to take care, it's not about infringing our First Amendment rights. It's about how we choose to exercise, we politicians, we in the media, and the potential impact that has on our listeners and our TV viewers and our audiences. And I just think this tragedy is a reminder even though we don't know all the details and what caused it yet. But it is a reminder of the need to pause and reflect on the level, or lack thereof, of civility in our political discourse. And that...
NNAMDIHere is -- I'm sorry.
CONNOLLY...it's been overheated in many -- many times in American history. But that doesn't mean that we can't try to use this tragedy to improve upon the quality of the dialogue we have.
NNAMDILet me go to the telephones. Here is Andrew in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWHello. My name is Andrew. I live in Virginia, actually Gerry Connolly's district. Congratulations in the elections.
ANDREWMy comment was that I feel like this is -- this might actually be the beginning. I feel like everyone needs to step up the security detail. We live in such a polarized, charged political environment right now, that we have to take into consideration that this might only be the first instance of this. We've seen all over the globe that when countries, who have leaders that are basically bled, where the people can realize that they can be attacked and their leaders are basically mortal, that we have always seen uprisings in the past and different things. Now I don't think there's gonna be a full-scale revolution, but I'm unsure if this is gonna be the end of it all.
NNAMDII don't know. Congressman Harris, what do you say to Andrew?
HARRISWell, again, my conclusion is that that security will be increased after this event because I think there is a fear out there that our society perhaps has become more immune to acts of violence. We see it on the TV. You see it all over, and I think that we're gonna see more rather than less security in the future because I think the suspicion is that Andrew may have a point here.
NNAMDIHere's DeCanti (sp?) in Baltimore, Md. DeCanti, your turn.
DECANTIYes. Thank you, Kojo. I really think that as we think about security, I think it's disingenuous for us to have the conversation and not think about changing some of the very, very lax gun laws. For instance -- I went online last night -- in Arizona, all you need to do is to be 21 years old, buy a gun, pay $60 and you get a five-year license registration to carry a gun. A 21-year-old with a Glock 9? That is very dangerous. The next thing I want to talk about...
NNAMDIWell, let me talk about that in terms of probability, Congressman Connolly. We hear a lot of people saying, as DeCanti says, we need to change the gun laws. What's the likelihood of that happening in this Congress?
CONNOLLYI think close to zero with the new majority, but I think the caller has a point. I think that we have to ask how this individual had such ready access to a semiautomatic weapon that can cause such a tragedy. And so I think it is prudent…
NNAMDICongressman Harris, is that a...
CONNOLLY...to at least examine how he was able with such facility to get such a weapon.
NNAMDICongressman Harris, is that a concern of yours?
HARRISNo. You know, gun laws won't solve this problem. You know, I don't represent Baltimore City, but certainly I represent the county around Baltimore. We have some of the strictest gun laws and one of the highest murder rates. The same is true in Washington, D.C. The same is true in multiple cities where gun laws don't affect it. What we have is we have a society where violence is more and more acceptable, person on person violence. And that's the problem. I mean, that's the core of the problem. We could pass all the gun laws we want. You know, people who want to get a gun will get a gun. There's no question about it in my mind. That's just a (unintelligible)
NNAMDIAnd, DeCanti, thank you very much for your call. Here is Mike in Manassas, Va. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEThanks, Kojo. I wanna say, first of all, that this was terrible, and I wish all of our congressmen and women to be safe, as well as all the people coming to visit and speak with them. I also wanna say that, you know, increasing security or changing gun laws without trying to understand the root of this problem doesn't fix anything. You can add all the security you want, but you need to know why somebody like this would do something. There are crazy, stupid people in the world, and if you tell crazy, stupid people certain things, they'll act in the crazy, stupid manner. And that's what really needs to happen. The people need to tone it down just a little bit before this really does get out of control and we see more incidents like this.
NNAMDICongressman Connolly, you get the final word in response to Mike.
CONNOLLYI very much agree with Mike. I'm not willing to concede that our country is just a violent place and, therefore, we need to take appropriate measures to respond to that. I don't believe that at all. I -- violence, sadly, is with us. But I think we can try to make sure that we aren't, you know, engaged in rhetoric that can persuade people, who are kind of on the edge to begin with, that violence is a perfectly acceptable way to resolve issues for them. And I agree with the caller. I think one of the first steps all of us can do, and it would be good for our politics, if for no other reason, is to tone it down.
NNAMDIWell, my own feeling is that violence is with us every day, whether it's on a football field or in a boxing ring, but we have to make a distinction between violence and the use of deadly force, which is what happened in this situation. Congressman Connolly, thank you very much for joining us.
CONNOLLYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIGerry Connolly is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Virginia. Andy Harris, thank you for joining us.
HARRISThank you very much.
NNAMDICongressman Harris is a Republican from Maryland. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, D.C. Water and why D.C. Water wants you to drink D.C. water. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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