Meeting face to face with the public is "the one of the most basic functions relative to democracy," U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, said by phone on Monday (Jan. 10).
And although she will remain cautious, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona on Saturday (Jan. 8) won't stop her from meeting with her constituents, she said.
Eshoo condemned the polemics in today's politics, which she said has contributed to a climate of violence that resulted in the shooting of 18 people, including Giffords.
Six people died after a 22-year-old man, Jared Loughner, fired 31 shots at Giffords, her staff and members of the public who had gathered for a "town hall" meeting with the congresswoman at a Safeway supermarket. Giffords remains hospitalized in critical condition with a gunshot wound through the head.
"Leaders can either lead or mislead. ... When you have candidates' faces as a target for shooting, we've gone too far. ... I hope this tragic event causes people to think -- and to think hard," she said.
Eshoo said her office has reported many suspicious incidents during her tenure in Congress, which have been investigated by the Capitol police. At times, local law enforcement has been involved when applicable. The decision as to what is a credible threat is up to the Capitol police, she said.
But members of the U.S. House of Representatives are not provided with security -- something that surprises many of her constituents, she said. Top House leaders do have some security, but "rank-and-file members are not protected, whether we are in the airport or standing in line at the supermarket," she said.
Eshoo said that lack of security in today's vitriolic political climate has given her pause. She thinks about her vulnerability every time she walks from the parking lot across the street to the Capitol steps, she said.
"I've always thought that members of Congress were sitting ducks," she said.
But separating herself from the public is counter to the function of political leaders in American democracy, she said.
"It's a slippery slope. What Gabby Giffords was doing is what every one of us does. … When I look at the Capitol after 9-11 and at the masked, official gunmen with machine guns at the ready, it's a very unpleasant feeling. We struggle with this," she said.
"We need to do common sense. I don't think it's time to hunker down. … I've commuted every week for 18 years to be with my constituents. I don't want anything to come between us," she said.