President Obama on Saturday called for Democrats and Republicans to work together to deal with the nation's problems as official Washington began to reengage after a week of mourning for the 19 shooting victims of the Arizona rampage.
In separate media addresses, Obama and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) both paid tribute to the victims and praised the heroes of the events a week ago, when a lone gunman opened fire outside a Tucson supermarket as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting her constituents. Six died and 13 were injured, including Giffords, who remains in critical condition.
The politics and policy of Washington ground to a halt over the week as the House abandoned its usual calendar, including a scheduled attempt to repeal the healthcare overhaul, Obama's signature program in the last session of Congress. Democrats controlled both legislative chambers at the time, but the GOP won the House of Representatives in the November election and has gained more members and influence in the new Senate.
The House this week is expected to pick up business with a largely symbolic vote on repeal. Though it will pass easily in the House, the repeal effort is expected to fail in the Senate, and Obama has pledged to veto it, even if it passes both houses.
One of the issues that politicians on both sides will be watching closely in the wake of the Arizona shootings is whether the volume of political rhetoric is toned down. While investigators believe that the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, acted alone out of his own demons and animosities, the attack has opened a discussion on the temper of political discourse.
"As shrill and discordant as our politics can be at times," Obama said on Saturday of the attack, "it was a moment that reminded us of who we really are — and how much we depend on one another. While we can't escape our grief for those we've lost, we carry on now, mindful of those truths."
Obama urged the nation to resume trying to cope with its problems.
"This is still a time of great challenges for us to solve. We've got to grow jobs faster, and forge a stronger, more competitive economy. We've got to shore up our budget, and bring down our deficits. We've got to keep our people safe, and see to it that the American Dream remains vibrant and alive for our children and grandchildren," Obama said.
"These are challenges I believe we can meet. And I believe we can do it in a way worthy of those who sent us here to serve. So as business resumes, I look forward to working together in that same spirit of common cause with members of Congress from both parties — because before we are Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans," he said.
In his speech on behalf of his party, Flake echoed the GOP comments throughout the week: that the attack was a reminder of senseless violence and selfless bravery of those who responded. Flake called on his colleagues to continue to meet with their constituents despite the possible danger.
"While we may not agree on everything, members of Congress are bound together by a sacred oath to support and defend the Constitution," Flake said. "An attack on one of us is an attack on all who serve –- an attack on representative democracy itself," he said, repeating comments by GOP leaders during the week.
"Gabby's assailant struck while she was engaged in the most fundamental duty of a lawmaker: listening to her constituents." Flake said. "It's part of what distinguished us from the tyrannies of old and it continues to separate us from the despotisms of today. The people are sovereign. The freedom and wisdom of the people determine our future — not the whims of dictators and certainly not the bullets of fanatics."