In the wake of the passage of the health care bill, Democratic members of Congress are receiving death threats and implicit threats against their families. One of those members–pro-life Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) who voted for final passage–has had to deal with more than his fair share. Last week, the anti-reform advocacy group the Committee to Rethink Reform published an ad in The Cincinnati Enquirer featuring a photo of Dreihaus with his children. (Both the Committee and the Enquirer have retracted and apologized for the ad.) Now, conservatives are planning a Sunday protest outside of his house, after a conservative blog put his address–complete with directions–on the Internet.
Speaking to me and another reporter outside the House chamber this afternoon, Driehaus said Republican leaders are to blame for the vitriol–and implied that they will bear some responsibility if reform opponents’ anger bubbles over into violence.“I think if you look at some of the language that has been used by leaders on the Republican side, one shouldn’t be surprised,” Driehaus said. “Unfortunately many of us are now receiving threats, death threats.”
There has been some violence bubbling up already. We reported yesterday that vandals had smashed doors and windows at five Democratic offices around the country in the days surrounding the landmark House health care vote Sunday night.
“These comments that have been made by Republican leaders can serve as–I don’t know if I want to say an excuse or perhaps permission for people who may be unbalanced, who may be calling with these threats,” Driehaus added.
Driehaus, a vulnerable member whose district includes part of Cincinnati, took explicit issue with House Minority Leader John Boehner, who represents a neighboring district. In an interview with National Review Boehner intoned that, if he voted for the bill, Driehaus would be a “dead man.” Boehner was talking politics, but for Driehaus, it’s become all too real.
“I think it’s really important for folks around here, especially leader Boehner, to understand that his words have consequences,” Driehaus said. “Leader Boehner suggested that if I vote yes on this bill and go home to the west side of Cincinnati, that I could be a dead man…. It really calls into question his ability to lead. He should be a statesman.”
Driehaus confronted Boehner about the interview on the floor of the House. “I told him it was inexcusable,” Driehaus said. “It doesn’t really matter the way you meant it, nor the way I accept it. It’s how the least sane person in my district accepts it.”
Republicans’ hardline anti-reform rhetoric is changing in the days after reform. But for Driehaus, the damage has already been done. “They are tacitly endorsing the inappropriate behavior and trying to use it to their political gain,” Driehaus said. “And they’re willing, apparently, to put members families at risk in order to do so.”