WASHINGTON — Grief-stricken members of Congress paid tribute Wednesday to the victims of the Tucson shooting rampage amid consultations with security advisers on how they can protect themselves and their aides against such savage attacks.
Still deeply shaken from Saturday's violence half a continent away, House Speaker John Boehner fought tears as he spoke of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' battle to recover from a gunshot wound to the head.
"Our hearts are broken but our spirit is not," Boehner said, as the House postponed its planned debate over repealing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Lawmakers chose instead to take up a resolution saluting victims of the massacre.
The House, according to the resolution, "stands firm in its belief in a democracy in which all can participate and in which intimidation and threats of violence cannot silence the voices of any American."
"We will have the last word," Boehner declared.
Later Wednesday, President Barack Obama and a bipartisan delegation are flying to Tuscon to attend a prayer service for the victims.
The shooting of a colleague as she sought to meet with her constituents underscored for many lawmakers and their staffs the vulnerability inherent in their jobs. As Giffords held a "Congress on Your Corner" meeting with constituents in a shopping center parking lot Saturday, a gunman shot her in the head and worked his way down the line of people waiting to talk with her, law enforcement officials said.
The attack ended when bystanders tackled the man, Jared Lee Loughner, 22. Nineteen people were shot, including six who died.
Among the dead: Giffords' community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman. Boehner's voice cracked Wednesday when he referred to the slain aide, whom he called "a public servant of the highest caliber."
"To all the dedicated professionals that we rely on to make this institution work, to each of you, thank you for what you do," he said.
Lawmakers emerging from a security briefing in Washington expressed greater concern for their aides in state offices than themselves in the heavily secured Capitol complex. "They've created a fortress up here," said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.
Republicans leaving a briefing with House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood said that he offered practical security advice, such as coordinating with local authorities when they have public events.
Members said they feel safe at the Capitol in Washington, but said that some are concerned about the safety of staff members back home in their districts.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said lawmakers will be leaning on local law enforcement officials to protect their staffs.
The tragedy has elicited a variety of responses from lawmakers. Some have proposed gun control legislation, while others have said they would arm themselves. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said, "I wish there was one more gun that day in the hands of a responsible person."