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Gabrielle Giffords shooting: a leadership moment for Obama, Boehner

Gabrielle Giffords tragedy – and that of 19 others killed or wounded during a mass shooting Saturday – puts special demands on President Obama and new House Speaker John Boehner.

By Staff writer / January 10, 2011

As ordered by President Obama, the American flag flies at half-staff over the White House at dawn Jan. 10 in Washington, in observance of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona and the other victims of an assassination attempt against her in Saturday's shooting outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

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Washington

In the face of tragedy, the job of political leaders is to set the moral tone, offer words of comfort, project authority – and leave the politics to others.

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President Obama and Rep. John Boehner, the newly installed Republican speaker of the House, have done just that in the days following the shooting rampage Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., that took the lives of six people and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona. She remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital after being shot in the head.

When news of the Tucson tragedy broke, Mr. Obama moved swiftly, following perceptions that he had reacted slowly in the "underwear bomber" case on Christmas Day 2009 and with the BP oil spill last summer. Saturday afternoon, he made an in-person statement on the incident and sent FBI director Robert Mueller to Tucson to oversee the federal investigation. On Sunday, he called for a national moment of silence at 11 a.m. Monday, which he and White House staff will observe from the South Lawn.

“It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart,” Obama said in a statement.

The president also signed a proclamation ordering that flags be flown at half-staff, and postponed a Tuesday trip to Schenectady, N.Y. The White House released photos portraying a president in charge, one showing him leading a meeting in the Situation Room (including his new chief of staff, William Daley), another of him talking on the phone with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

Speaker Boehner and the rest of the congressional leadership of both parties came out with statements of sober concern and no partisanship.

“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Boehner has said more than once since the shootings. He and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) ordered flags flown at half-staff over the Capitol, in honor of an aide to Congresswoman Giffords, Gabe Zimmerman, who died in the attack. Legislative activity, including consideration of a bill to repeal Obama’s health-care reform, is postponed for the week. In a bipartisan conference call with lawmakers, Boehner announced he has arranged for law enforcement to conduct security overviews for members.

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