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POLITICS: White House

Washington's political calm not likely to last

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Politics,White House,Julie Mason
For official Washington, currently on hold while the nation comes to terms with the weekend shootings in Tucson, Ariz., the question isn't whether partisan politics will return, but how fast and ferociously.

President Obama on Wednesday will address a memorial service for the victims of the shooting rampage that killed six and left 14 wounded, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition.

Meanwhile, all business in Congress is on hold for the week as a public debate churns over the culpability of combative political rhetoric in fomenting violence.

"I think we are going to go right back to where we were before this happened -- but more delicately," said Kenneth Warren, a political scientist at Saint Louis University.

Pundits are making frequent comparisons to the political circumstances surrounding the Tucson rampage and the situation former President Clinton faced after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The speech Clinton delivered at the city's memorial service and his remarks about the danger of anti-government rhetoric marked a turning point in his flagging presidency -- and the start of a slow fade for the Republicans who took over Congress less than a year earlier.

But, "I think this is a very different political climate," Warren said. "It has gotten a lot worse since Clinton was recovering from the '96 election, and remember the economy at that time was improving rapidly."

House Republicans this week were scheduled to begin debate on repealing Obama's health care reforms. Although largely symbolic, the move was a sharp political retort to the president's signature issue.

Joe Tuman, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, said Republicans still have a potent argument to make against the government requiring consumers to buy health care -- and they are not likely to drop it.

"I would like to be optimistic and say maybe now both sides can work together, but the reality is we are so close to the presidential election and I am dubious," Tuman said. "There is no first and second place in this, you either win or lose."

Congressional leaders have mostly kept a low profile since the Saturday shooting, and Republicans so far have given no indication they plan modify their agenda.

It is also unclear how far Obama will go, in either the memorial speech or his State of the Union address later this month, in making a point about the corrosive effects of heated partisan rhetoric -- an issue he campaigned on in 2008.

With a reticence that is somewhat out of character for both sides, neither the White House nor congressional Republicans want to appear to be the first ones back at work.

"This is certainly a tragedy but public policy is public policy," said Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida. "It wouldn't surprise me if there was a little less hyperbole, but I would be shocked if in a couple weeks' time the Republican House didn't get back to business."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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