Washington — A fax bearing the image of a noose. Profane voice mails. Bricks thrown, a gas line cut. White powder sent to an office.
Democrats and a few Republicans revealed mounting numbers and unsettling details of threats against them Thursday in the emotional aftermath of the passage of the health care overhaul.
Lawmakers uniformly condemned the harassment, but that’s where the agreement ended. Democrats said Republicans were slow to condemn the vigilantism, while Republicans said Democrats were playing politics with the threats.
“By ratcheting up the rhetoric, some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels,” said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. “Enough is enough. It has to stop.”
At least 10 Democrats now have reported harassment, including incidents involving at least four of their offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas. More frequent have been obscenity-laced, sometimes-threatening phone messages. An undisclosed number of lawmakers have been given increased police protection.
“It is unfortunate that a small but vocal group of people are using insults to convey their opinions and alarming that anyone would make threats against me or my family,” said Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Pa.
On Thursday, two Republicans said they, too, had been menaced.
No arrests have been reported. A threat to assault a member of Congress in retaliation for the performance of official duties is punishable by up to a year in prison.
House historian Fred Beuttler said there have been few acts of violence against lawmakers over legislation. The worst occurred in 1954 when four Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber, wounding five members. A cross was burned on Speaker Sam Rayburn’s front lawn in Texas during debate on civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
This week, hate-filled rants have been showing up in voice mails, e-mail boxes and on fax machines of lawmakers since the House approved the health care bill 219-212 Sunday night. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Tuesday. A package of fixes to the new law was winding through Congress Thursday on the brink of a two-week recess that begins on Monday.
On one point Thursday, there was bipartisan agreement: No act of Congress — health care reform or anything else — merits threats of violence against lawmakers or their families.
House Republican leader John Boehner met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the incidents and both condemned them.
Pelosi was careful to avoid blaming Republicans directly for inciting the harassment, though she said that words “weigh a ton.” Such threats of retaliation “have no place in a civil debate in our country,” she said.
Boehner followed moments later. While many are angry over the health care measure, he said, “threats and violence should not be part of a political debate.”