Democrats said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida was referring to the poor state of public discourse in the days following last year's shooting in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was one of 13 injured. Republicans said her comments were a poor attempt to score points and demanded an apology.
At issue was Wasserman Schultz's response to a question during a forum in Bedford, N.H., Wednesday about restoring confidence in the civility of Congress.
"We need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago," Wasserman Schultz said, noting that Giffords, a close friend, was making progress.
The tenor in Congress and the nation has changed, Wasserman Shultz said, adding, "I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it [took] a very precipitous turn towards edginess and a lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement."
The dozens of Tea Party-backed freshmen elected to the House in 2010 have taken divisiveness "to a different level, and so when they come and disagree with you, you're not just wrong. You are the enemy," she said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN Wasserman Schultz should "apologize and admit the stupidity of that comment and to take such a tragedy and such a remarkable story and to try to score political points on it."
"It's just -- it's pathetic," Priebus said.
DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse wrote on his Twitter page that Wasserman Schultz wouldn't politicize the Tucson tragedy and a full reading of the transcript showed she was discussing civility in politics.
"Would it kill you folks in the Republican Party to stop making crap up," he wrote.
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