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White House on Sarah Palin's comments: No comment

The administration aims to stay above the fray when asked about President Obama stressing the need for political civility after the Arizona shootings and Sarah Palin's 'blood libel' charge.

January 13, 2011|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pointedly avoided attempts Thursday to engage the Obama administration in a debate on civil political discourse with potential presidential rival Sarah Palin.

Speaking at his morning briefing, Gibbs ducked several questions about the president's response to Palin's comments in the wake of the Arizona shooting spree that left six dead and 19 wounded. Palin on Wednesday branded attempts by some to use the attack as a way of criticizing conservatives as "blood libel."

Wednesday night, Obama traveled to Tucson, where he spoke at length at a memorial on the need for healing and political civility. Several commentators noted the contrast between Obama's call for healing and Palin's defense of what she said was an attack on conservatives without evidence.

Gibbs on Thursday backed away from questions that would have engaged the White House in a debate with a possible rival.

"I am happy to speak to what the president said and how he came about saying it, but I'll let others opine on that," Gibbs said in response to questions about Palin.

Saturday's shooting has opened a window into an ongoing debate on political civility at a time when power is shifting in Washington. With Republicans taking over control of the House and increasing their influence in the Senate and in statehouses across the country, that debate has grown even sharper since the November election.

Much of the early criticism after the shooting has centered on campaign materials from Palin, a conservative icon. She targeted 20 congressional districts, including the district where Saturday's shootings took place. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was meeting with constituents when the attack took place in Tucson, was critically injured when she was shot in the head.

Investigators believe that Jared Lee Loughner, being held on five counts of murder and attempted murder of federal employees in connection with the attack, acted alone in the shooting. Although some, including Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, said vitriolic political discourse played a role in the shootings, others said Loughner was just a disturbed individual acting out of personal animosity.

In an extended video statement posted on her Facebook page, Palin sought to defend conservatives.

"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.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesmuskal

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