WASHINGTON — The House chamber was nearly empty.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, led the floor in a prayer and a pledge of allegiance, and heard from two members of Congress with procedural questions.
With that, the House adjourned – four minutes after the session began.
This marked lawmakers’ somber return to the Capitol on Tuesday, three days after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head during a rampage at a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson. She is in critical condition. Six other people, including a judge and a 9-year-old girl, are dead.
The House returns to business at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, when Boehner will put forth a resolution which condemns the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”
The resolution also “honors the memory” of the six people killed in the attack, offers condolences to the victims’ families, and applauds those who reacted quickly in the moment to help the wounded survive.
It also “reaffirms” the First Amendment passage which “Representative Gabrielle Giffords herself read” only two days before the attack; it highlights the part about the right for citizens to assemble peaceably.
Giffords took to the floor on Jan. 6 as part of a required full reading of the Constitution. That was part of the GOP’s triumphant roll-out of its agenda as the new majority in the House, which was set to continue this week with a vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
The shooting on Saturday turned everything on its head. The House postponed the health care vote, and some representatives began calling for possible measures to beef up lawmakers’ security, curb inflammatory campaign speech and control the purchase of guns.
The quiet on the Hill this week is markedly different from a week ago, when Capitol Hill was bubbling with new members smiling for swearing-in photo ops, families from all over the country getting tours, and a triumphant Boehner, receiving his new gavel as speaker and declaring he was there to “fix a broken institution.”
Boehner’s resolution crystallized the change in agenda for this week: “When adjourning today, [the House] shall do so out of respect to the victims of this attack.”
Meanwhile, the Senate is off this week, but Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., had scheduled speeches for Tuesday morning. Kerry had considered canceling his speech at the Center for American Progress, but he spoke despite the tragedy.
“Someone might ask why, with our country in mourning, we are here this morning continuing to talk about the business of the country,” Kerry said. “But the truth is that is what Gabrielle Giffords was doing – talking about the business of the country. And the truth is, talking about the business of our country is more urgent than ever.”
Kerry, who was in Sudan for the secession referendum there when he heard the news about Giffords, pivoted into his speech about “political gridlock” by calling the shooting “a dramatic underscoring of the work that must be done to revitalize our own democracy here at home.”
“In the weeks and months ahead, the real issue we need to confront isn’t just what role divisive political rhetoric may have played on Saturday – but it’s the violence divisive, overly simplistic dialogue does to our democracy every day,” Kerry said.