Local Congressional Representatives React To Tragic Shooting In Tucson
We speak to local Congressional Representatives Bob Filner and Brian Bilbray about the shooting in Tucson that left six dead and 20 injured, including Arizona Rep. Danielle Giffords, who is in critical condition in a nearby hospital. What lessons have been learned from the tragedy? How will Congress move forward following the shooting incident?
Brian Bilbray, Republican congressman representing California's 50th Congressional District
Bob Filner, Democratic congressman representing California's 51st Congressional District
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. As we just heard on NPR News, Arizona congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords remains in critical condition after being shot in the head at a constituent event in Tucson on Saturday. A total of 20 people were shot, six people were killed. The tragedy has sent shock waves through America's political establishment. It has many questioning the lack of security for the nation's Congress will representatives. And calling for a return to civil discourse in our political disputes. Joining me now to discuss a reaction to shooting of congresswoman Giffords is Congressman Bob Filner. He's democratic congressman representing California's 51st congressional district. Congressman Filner, good morning and welcome to These Days.
FILNER: Why, thank you. And it's a tragic circumstance. I was a good friend of Gabby. We're all praying for her recovery. She represented an Arizona district that bordered Mexico as I have a district in California bordering Mexico. So we have lots of common problems. And you know, our heart goes out. I know her husband, and her kids. And we all want her to have a full recovery.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congressman Brian Bilbray is now on the line with us as well of he's representing California's 50th congressional district. And Congressman Bilbray, what is your reaction to this weekend's tragic events?
BILBRAY: Well, someone who had the privilege of working with her on I science committee and border issues issue, you know, it's just -- it's shock and it's out rage. This was a beautiful, articulate young lady who helpfully will make it through this tough period. She was a great person to work with. She's one of those that reached across aisles, worked with people regardless of their political affiliation. Reflecting her district's diversity politically. And it's one of those things that you always hope doesn't happen, but sadly, you know, you're always reminded about that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to ask you both, let me start with you, Congressman Filner. When did you first hear about this shooting? Were you contacted by Washington? Okay. I'm not getting this response. Congressman Bilbray, when did you hear about this shooting? Did you get a phone call from Washington?
BILBRAY: No, actually I got it over the media quicker than and the capitol police were able to get it over the air. So that obviously will be some question, that oversight and house office have to that Dan Lungren will have to look at, but it was actually a quicker response over the media than what I got over our secure communication system.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We've lost Congressman Filner's line for just a moment. So let me stay with you if I can, Brian Bilbray. What kind of issues do you think need to be discussed as a result of this incident?
BILBRAY: Look, I think first of all we just gotta remember that we are shocked and it's proper to be shocked. And there's a bad, a good, and a good here. That we just gotta look at the big picture on. First of all, it is terrible that a bunch of -- you know a great representative, a group of a bunch of innocent people have been shot here. The good news is this is not the norm in the United States. We've gotta remind ourselves that it is a privilege to riff in a society where we are shocked at this type of violence. People always kind of look at ourselves and say, how could we allow this to happen? But we don't have to look very far to see where elected officials are assassinated almost daily. And around the world this is sadly not a rare thing. What I think is really terrible to watch out for, though, is the way you get to those situations where elected officials are killed in a matter of, you know, process is that you start with one and you don't do what it takes to avoid the problem in the future. Of and I think our challenge to honor those who have been shot including the congresswoman is to make sure that we address this issue. And I think one of the ways we do this is understand that there is going to be this risk, this is representative government, we do not dictate from Washington, we represent. And that means we have to communicate, and we do that through the Internet, we do that over the telephone, we do that through, you know, Facebook and a lot of other things. But we also do it face to face. And we do not drive around in limousines with blackened windows like some people think congressmen do. We're out there in the community, we're at the shopping centers, we're meeting with people. This could occur anywhere, any time. And we all know about it. And frankly, there is a lot more of these security concerns than what the public really knows about. This is just something that congressmen live with, and don't talk about. Of.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congressman bill Filner, you're back with us on the line. I'm wondering, are you thinking that things should be changed in any way? Should Congress people have more security with them when they go out in people do you think?
FILNER: Well, I don't think that's gonna work as Brian said, we value our face-to-face contact. And that's the beauty of American democracy. But I differ with Brian -- this is almost an inevitable result of the kind of line of rhetoric we had in the recent election in recent years. That is the people who put Congress people's district on the Internet, like Sarah Palin did with cross hairs, and she says we can't retreat, we are to reload. This is beyond the free speech act. Free speech has consequences of just as justice Holmes said a case ago, you can't yell fire in a crowded theatre. You can't say ready, aim, fire, in a crowded political debate. And the folks who are doing that have got to take responsibility and not just say, oh, this is the result of a madman. A madman, yes, perhaps. But they're very vulnerable to the kind of suggestions that are made on the talk shows every day, in the rhetoric, and we have to recommit ourselves to a politics that says, you know, we are not enemies. We have differing political opinions, and Brian and I understand that personally, and we get along very well. And we're not enemies to each other. But clearly the system, and frankly, you know, Gabby had the Tea Party get her, I had it. And these people were constantly threatening us with violence. The day after election I was threatened with assassination. So this has gone too far, and the people who -- the responsible leaders of our -- both parties have got to balance it, instead of saying well, no, this is it just a madman, and we'll just continue as usual.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congressman Bilbray, I'd like to get your reaction to that.
BILBRAY: Well, I think as Bob knows, this thing doesn't just apply to one political affiliation or the other. As Bob knows, you know, I've had to respond to certain issues, the FBI have actually taken people into custody, as far as we know. And even family members threatened. You know, and that's a whole different issue that people don't talk about, when your children, your wife, your husband gets pulled into this stuff, it really does draw a big net. And this goes back as Bob will remember, the stuff that happened, you know, in the 90s that some of us were so called targeted districts, and that term has been used just casually across the board. But the fact is that, I think, all of us gotta understand that regardless of it was healthcare, if it was the impeachment of bill Clinton, if there was the, you know, discussions of every emotional issue, you have always got those that basically ratchet it up and go at it. And it doesn't, like the last couple months, you know, the previous August, all of us were catching heat and confronting the very violent response from the public. And sadly, that kind of response gets built up by the media on both sides. And you can go everything from one station to the other, basically, talking about it. I remember talking to -- my being attacked by a national media person because we did not want the videos of our troops being assassinated. And we were being attacked and targeted because we didn't want our troops targeted. So that kind of discussion builds it up. I think I agree with Bob that we've all got remember, you know, don't say something just for the shock value. Remember the substance. But the media also has to understand that going out and interviewing the most radical extreme person, no matter their party affiliation, even if they don't have a party affiliation or a political belief, may be good for the ratings but isn't good for the process in the long run.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congressman Bilbray, speaker Boehner is pulling most of the scheduled legislative agenda this week in order to have discussion about what happened this weekend and about security. What issues do you think Congress is actually gonna be talking about this week?
BILBRAY: Well, I think we're gonna be talking about a lot of issues of the biggest thing we can do to honor Gabby is make sure we understand we still bear the responsibility of representing the public and participating in the government. The other I think, would be the fact of starting to look at the fact that -- colleagues looking at each other in the eye, and start talking to each other as if our mothers are watching. So as, you know, start having some adult super vision. Sadly, what happens is the clips you see on the house floor when people take personal attacks. And frankly, I gotta say one thing about that, I think the American people, if you looked the way the elections went over a lot of these issues over the last decade, the more extreme, the more confrontational people are, they cannot survive very long. The public tends to move away from them. I don't care if it's Bob Bar or if it's the gentleman from Florida that says, you know, all Republicans want people to die. The more extreme elements over all politically tend to -- the voters tend to turn on them. It's sad, though, that there is a lot of people that highlight those and focus on them. Because they tend to create better ratings.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Congressman Filner, I would like to know, I just asked Congressman Bilbray whether or not -- since the scheduled agenda has been pulled, what exactly are -- would you like to see Congress address this week?
FILNER: Well, I think we're gonna, you know, try to come together in honoring of those who were killed in Tucson and to pray for Gabby, and that will be good. But again, I think we have to denounce the kind of extremism Brian just talked about. And these people may in the long run be defeated, but they're there now. There are some real creepy people who were elected. And their rhetoric has not changed even though they have been elected. I'll give you just one example, when Sarah Palin issued her 20 -- with the cross hairs, 18 of those people were either lost or retired. There are only two who are still in Congress. One was Gabby Giffords. I'm not saying that our shooter saw that risk and said, I'll get the -- you know, I'll get one of them [INAUDIBLE]. But it clearly shows that they are being successful. And in my own race, I mean, election night I could have been -- I was surrounded by a helped of my opponents' supporters, they would have beaten me up had not the police interfered. I haven't seen Brian, you know, denounce that. And the in fact day, they were targeting me for assassination. This is not an isolated case of Gabby Giffords. Thousands of us around the country, mainly those of us who are running against Tea Party candidates, have with this threat daily. I mean, they shouted me down everywhere I went, the threatened to beat me up, they threaten me with assassination. This is not -- and some of those people want, and I don't see the speak every of the house, and I don't see where I an Bilbray denouncing these people. I've seen them on television in the last few days. Before this tragedy, saying, hey, you know, these are our enemies, and we gotta eliminate them, not just beat them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Congressman Bilbray, in the 30 seconds we have left, would you like to respond? Perhaps renounce those actions?
BILBRAY: Well, first of all, I renounce all of what Bob said, and Bob knows I've gone public again and again, and say I count him as a personal friend. I think that there's -- the emotions have always been up. And Bob, you know, I could turn right around and say I don't remember Bob denouncing the people attacking me in the late 90s and going after me because of the impeachment vote and how violent that got. How confrontational that got down to the point where family members were being dragged through. I wouldn't expect Bob to do anything but be my friend. But then to say the later that somehow I haven't supported him or he hasn't supported me, I wouldn't be irresponsible enough to say that. I'd just say that we ought to do what we can do. And I think Bob and I set a personal example. You can say all you want. But actions speak louder than words and I think that Bob would know that both publicly and privately, I have always been civil and worked with him regardless of the political differences we have. I believe that I think Bob's wrong on certain things but he's still my friends and I think those actions, the actions that I take and set the example I set say a lot better than trying to put out a news release one way or the other. I think Bob would challenge, would have to question his own statements about the fact that I have always made it clear to everyone.
FILNER: Maureen, I would agree with Brian. But I'm just saying there are so many cases, and the leadership of his party has gone successive -- [CHECK AUDIO] getting people into Congress, and Congress people because they were elected, but they continue to condone this kind of looking at your opponent as an misdemeanor.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gentlemen, we are out of time. I want to thank you both, Congressman Bob Filner in, Congressman Brian Bilbray. We obviously still have a lot to talk about regarding this issue. If you would like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, we assess the prospects for the construction industry in San Diego. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.