President Obama left Washington on Wednesday, en route to Tucson, Ariz., where he will participate in a memorial service for the 19 victims of a weekend shooting spree that left six dead and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Obama, wearing a dark coat, and first lady Michelle Obama, wearing a purple coat, climbed up the ramp to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force base, turned and waved before the plane was sealed. It lifted off about 10:10 a.m. PST.
Aides have indicated that Obama will deliver a healing message, similar to his calls in recent days on the need to honor the victims and those who helped save lives during Saturday’s attack. “Out of this tragedy, we can come together as a stronger nation,” the president said this week, a likely taste of the theme he will touch Wednesday night around 5 p.m. PST. The memorial, called “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America,” will be held at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Obama left a Washington still deep in mourning for Giffords and the other victims of the attack. In a televised news conference Wednesday, Dr. Peter Rhee of University Medical Center in Arizona said Giffords remained in critical condition and her treatment was “going as anticipated.”
The House of Representatives on Wednesday began debate on a resolution to honor victims of the attack.
“We are called here to mourn an unspeakable act of violence,” Speaker John Boehner said of the attack. Giffords had been holding a meeting with her constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson when the attack was carried out.
It was an emotional Boehner who greeted his colleagues in the morning.
“Look at Tucson right now and you will be reminded that America’s most plentiful source of strength is her people,” said Boehner, wiping away tears. “No act, no matter how heinous, will stop us from doing our duty and being among the people we serve.”
In addition to honoring the dead and wounded, the resolution, expected to pass on a voice vote during the day, also thanks those who apprehended the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, who faces five counts of murder and attempted murder of federal employees. The resolution calls for an open society where “the threats of violence cannot silence the voices of any American.”
The call for standing above the partisan fray was one of the themes in the House.
“We know we gather here without distinction of party,” Boehner said. “The needs of this institution have always risen above partisanship.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sounded a similar note. “May this resolution remind us of the urgent need to uphold our democratic values to treat one another with courtesy and respect,” she said.
Investigators have said that they believe Loughner acted alone. Even though he posted anti-government materials on the Web, any motive he might have had is unknown. Nevertheless, the shooting has become a sounding board for the debate on whether political rhetoric has become too inflamed.
Part of the debate over civility has focused on campaign materials produced by Sarah Palin. One of her political action committee’s postings showed a map with 20 congressional districts — including Giffords’ — in crosshairs, as targets of conservative efforts to unseat incumbents who supported programs like the healthcare overhaul.
On Wednesday, Palin counterattacked in an extended video statement posted on her Facebook page.
“Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance,” she said. “After this shocking tragedy, I listened, at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.
“As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, we know violence isn’t the answer. When we take up our arms, we’re talking about our vote.”
Palin also gave a scathing assessment of the media: “But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible,” she said.