When we left the Capitol on Friday of last week, we were prepping for the coverage of the bickering that was going to ensue on the House floor this week. The GOP had decided on seven hours of debate on the "Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act" starting today and ending with a vote to repeal the bill tomorrow.
It was going to be, as one Democratic congresswoman repeated multiple times, "political theater." And journalists were already stocking up on popcorn and Dr. Pepper to watch the fireworks take place.
Things are different now. The schedule has been cleared, and the only business that will take place on the House floor this week are resolutions and tributes to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), her staff member that was tragically gunned down, Gabe Zimmerman, other members of her staff that were injured and the citizens who were also caught in the crossfire.
Yesterday, members and staff went to the East Front of the Capitol for a moment of silence. As they stood there with the flag at half staff in the background, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver (D- MO), had everyone bow their heads, as he began to pray. "We ask blessings on the spirit of this nation,” he said. “Help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine, hope. … Bless these, God, your servants who serve this nation. Keep them safe."
Walking back to their offices staffers were hugging, but they seemed undeterred.
"I've been on Capitol Hill for a few years, and I'm aware that there is a target on my office building," said Danielle Rodman, an aide to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) when asked about security concerns. She added, "This isn't going to make us stop connecting to the people and talking to them, because that's the reason we're here."
Her colleague Coby Dolan echoed that. "We need to always take precautions,” Dolan said, “but not in a way that prevents a vibrant Democracy from happening."
With the rising talk of whether violent rhetoric during the last election fed into this tragedy, members and staffers were cautious about jumping to conclusions.
"We know ourselves and ... average Americans should be able to say what they believe in,” Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz (PA) said after the moment of silence. “That's what makes this country great. Again, is there a difference between that and a real demonization of government as the enemy. I think that there is. So where do we draw that line. Again, we live in a free society and free speech matters a great deal to each of us, and I don't want it to dampen that."
And while free speech is important, U.S. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer said all Capitol Hill offices have to do a better job of securing events and speeches.
"I think interactions that the members have are so routine and some are so quick and so small, that I think that they don’t think through that security portion,” he said, adding, “If you don't report a threat, shame on you, because that's the only way we can measure trends and have a proper response."
He continued, "We don’t mind you calling us. Call us when you get a threat, call us when the hairs on your neck go up."
But a day after two members -- Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Heath Shuler (D-NC) -- said they were going to start carrying guns to their events, Gainer spoke out against that.
"I don't think that's a good idea," he said on ABC. "I think we should leave the law enforcement and security to those professionals. … I've been a policeman for 42 years, and I don't think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful.”
It is expected that, next week, the repeal of health care will make its way to the floor to be hotly debated. But that debate -- at least for now -- may be tempered.