BY James Gordon Meek
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's heartsick husband told lawmakers he blames inflammatory rhetoric for the assassination attempt on his wife.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that in a conversation on Sunday Giffords's husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, lashed out at the cantankerous politics dividing the country.
He is "very angry about the level of angry rhetoric that he believes incites people," Hoyer told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
Hoyer stopped short of calling Saturday's attack on his Democratic colleague by accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner, 22, politically motivated. [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]
"We're going to have to find out exactly what the motivation here was," Hoyer said.
Giffords narrowly won reelection in November over a Tea Party-backed Republican candidate. She was lambasted by her foes for supporting the health-care bill and her district office was vandalized.
Tea Party darling Sarah Palin produced an online map during the elections targeting districts of liberal lawmakers, including Giffords's District 8, with the cross hairs of a rifle scope. The ex-Alaska governor fired up her followers, saying, "Don't retreat; reload."
"These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN's "State of the Union." [Take the poll: Is Political Rhetoric To Blame for Arizona Shooting?]
Palin's camp has insisted they had no intention of inciting violence with images of cross hairs. "We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights," Palin's spokeswoman Rebecca Mansour said on a radio talk show.
The dispute even spilled over into a vigil outside the Tucson hospital where Giffords is being treated, when Texas activist Patricia Cerswell got into a shouting match over Palin.
"She has blood on her hands," Cerswell said of Palin.
Others attending the vigil told Cerswell to pipe down.
"This isn't a political event. Go home," retired Tucson lawyer Judith Blair, told Cerswell.
Earlier, Rep. Steve Israel (D-L.I.) called the Tucson bloodbath a "tragic reminder that we cannot remain silent when political rhetoric turns violent."
Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl urged Democrats to cool down and let the FBI investigate. "It's probably giving [Loughner] too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him," Kyl told CBS.