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House Democrats Hear Soothing Biden At Retreat

The House Democrats' retreat couldn't have come at a better time, just days after they saw one of the greatest accomplishments from when they ran the House of Representatives — the health care law — trashed by the new Republican majority who passed a bill to repeal it.

The retreat, like the Republicans' own the week before, was mostly closed to the news media.

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats received visits from Biden and President Obama at their gathering place, a Hyatt resort hotel in Cambridge, Md. about two hours from the nation's capital.

Biden's afternoon appearance was actually open to journalists who heard his talk, mostly an update for the lawmakers on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But he also spoke extensively about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat now recovering from a gunshot wound to the head after being shot in Tucson with 19 others, six of whom died.

Biden, who had neurosurgery years ago because of brain aneurysms, used his own experience of recovery to encourage Giffords' colleagues about the her prospects. He said:

... As devastating as Gabby's injury is, it does not surprise me, believe it or not, that she's making the progress she's making.There's no empirical data to sustain this, but I'm absolutely convinced that attitude and — not character, but I don't know what the right phrase is, but attitude, determination is an incredible, incredible weapon in dealing with what you're facing.

Biden, who campaigned for Giffords before the midterm elections described her as having a "backbone like a ramrod."

While Biden didn't assign blame for the mass shootings to political rhetoric, he told the lawmakers he welcomed their efforts to dial down the overheated talk.

BIDEN: ... I think there is sort of generic recognition that we've got to change the way we talk to one another...

And tone matters. Words matter. And I'm not saying they matter necessarily in terms of whether some guy who's already deranged would do something like this again.

But it matters in terms of how we're going to deal with the problems of this country, whether we're really actually going to respond to the needs of the American people. And they're significant.

After his lengthy review of the situation in Iraq and Af-Pak, Biden had words meant to salve some of the hurt Democrats were experiencing after the loss of their majority status. He knew what they were going through, he said:

... On behalf of the president and myself, let me thank you all again for the hard work and support you gave the administration last year. (Applause.) Many of you cast — many of you cast extremely — (applause continuing) — extremely difficult votes.

I know what it was like, from my years in the Senate, and I know that it's not getting any easier any time soon. But I want you to know that we want to strengthen this relationship in the 112th Congress.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.