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US healthcare overhaul spurs more threats, debate
March 25, 2010 / 10:32 PM / 8 years ago

US healthcare overhaul spurs more threats, debate

* Pelosi says all need to act responsibly

* Democrat gets “threatening letter,” white powder

* Republican says bullet fired through window

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - A top U.S. Republican turned the tables on Democrats on Thursday and accused them of “fanning the flames” of anger following the U.S. Congress’ bitter overhaul this week of the American healthcare system.

At the same time, Anthony Weiner became the latest Democratic U.S. lawmaker to report receiving what the FBI called a threatening letter, this one with white powder, and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged all lawmakers to act responsibly.

“Words have power; they weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people depending on their, shall we say, emotional state,” said Pelosi, a Democrat.

After days of Democrats suggesting that fiery Republican rhetoric helped spur death threats and angry protests, Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, pointed a finger at Democrats.

Cantor told a Capitol Hill news conference that a bullet was fired through a window of his campaign office in Richmond, Virginia, this week, and that he had received threatening e-mails.

Richmond police later seemed to raise the possibility that Cantor’s window was pierced by a stray bullet at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

“A preliminary investigation shows that a bullet was fired into the air and struck the window in a downward direction,” they said in a statement, adding that it broke the window but did not penetrate the blinds and landed about a foot inside the empty office.

Speaking to reporters, Cantor accused Democrats of trying to use the spate of threats for political gain.

“Legitimate threats should be treated as security issues .... It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain,” he said.

“That is why I have deep concerns that some ... are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon,” Cantor said, naming House Democratic campaign committee chairman Chris Van Hollen and Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine.

Cantor did not cite any specific statements by Van Hollen or Kaine, and left the news conference without taking any questions. Democrats accused him of making unfounded allegations against the two party leaders.

WHITE POWDER

Authorities are investigating death threats against a number of Democratic lawmakers who voted in support of healthcare reform that Republican denounced as a costly government takeover.

Weiner on Thursday said he received an envelope containing white powder and a threatening letter to his community office in Kew Gardens in New York.

New York FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the letter directly referred to Weiner’s position on healthcare reform.

The powder spilled out of the letter, the FBI said. New York police later said it was nontoxic.

Democrats charge that heated Republican words have helped create a climate for threats and violence, pointing to a Twitter comment by 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who urged supporters: “Don’t Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD.”

A Palin Facebook post continued the gun theme, featuring a U.S. map targeting 20 members of Congress who backed the healthcare legislation, using the crosshairs of a gunsight to note each of their home states.

Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter said Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele took aim at Pelosi in an interview on Fox News, telling viewers, “let’s start getting Nancy ready for the firing line in (the) November” congressional election.

Speaking at her weekly news conference, Pelosi urged caution, and made a pointed reference to Republicans applauding a disruptive protester in the House visitors’ gallery shortly before passage of the healthcare bill on Sunday.

“I don’t subscribe to the fact that these acts of violence sprang from any words of my colleagues,” Pelosi said.

“But I do think that this Congress and this House of Representatives is a classroom and that it is inappropriate for members of Congress to stand up and cheer when these sentiments are expressed in the gallery,” Pelosi said.

“Our members are undaunted,” she added. “They are proud of their vote. They understand what this is about.” (Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Richard Cowan, Andy Sullivan and Basil Katz; Editing by David Alexander and Xavier Briand)

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