House lawmakers returned to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday for the first time since the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., their partisan tone dampened by the tragedy as they spent the day focused on the victims, including their colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who remains hospitalized. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, introduced a resolution honoring the six dead and 14 injured, his eyes tearing up as he talked about those shot while waiting to meet Giffords, a Democrat, at a "Congress on Your Corner" event.
Boehner, only a week into his tenure as speaker, struck a tone that combined reconciliation, remorse and resolve to move the House forward in the wake of tragedy that has at least temporarily derailed the GOP agenda and sent fear into the hearts of many members who now question their own safety at public events.
"This body has yet to fully register the magnitude of this tragedy," Boehner said. "We feel a litany of unwanted emotions no resolution could possibly capture. We know that we gather here without distinction of party. The needs of this institution have always risen above partisanship. And what this institution needs right now is strength. Holy, uplifting strength. The strength to grieve with the families of the fallen, to pray for the wounded, and to chart a way forward, no matter how painful and difficult it may be."
The daylong tribute was interrupted for about an hour so lawmakers could attend a private prayer service held in the newly built Capitol Visitors Center. The event included a benediction by Rabbi David Saperstein and remarks by GOP and Democratic leaders as well as members who worked closely with Giffords.
"As our nation struggles to comprehend this act of savagery, this fearful assault on all of our sacred responsibilities, it speaks well of our institution that its members have reacted not with a torrent of accusations hurled at each other, but courageously, with a collective embrace," Boehner told the packed auditorium.
At the end of the service, members held hands and prayed.
"The mood was very solemn, as you can imagine," Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said, after the event.
The House floor tributes sometimes hinted at the ongoing debate about whether the shooting was inspired by political vitriol.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, for instance, made "a call to return to compassion and an abandonment of hate-laced rhetoric."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the resolution in a floor speech before departing with President Obama for the Wednesday memorial service in Tucson.
"May this resolution remind us of the urgent need to uphold our democratic values, to treat one another with courtesy and respect, and to act, as congresswoman Giffords has always done and always will do, in a manner that reflects the best of American leadership."
The House GOP has been silent on next week's schedule. The House tributes took place on the very day Republicans hoped to pass a bill that would repeal the nation's health care reform law passed last year by Democrats.
"Certainly right now the tone on the House floor is focusing on our oneness as members of Congress," Schakowsky said. "Surely our hope is this will extend on to the regular order and our discussion of policy differences. But, we'll have to wait and see."