Washington (CNN) – Some Democrats are not so subtly using the tragedy in Arizona to point fingers at Republicans for stoking inflammatory political rhetoric, but Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver says there is blame on both sides.
"We have Democrats saying dumb things every single day, and Republicans as well," said Cleaver.
Cleaver, the new Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is also a Methodist minister and delivered a short prayer on the steps of the Capitol Monday for hundreds gathered for a moment of silence to mark the Arizona tragedy.
"Hopefully this is a transformative moment," the Missouri Democrat told CNN later in an interview.
"If it isn't, it should be. Whether the shooter was inspired by speech or not to do his dastardly deeds is irrelevant. The truth of the matter is the tone is toxic here in Washington, and we have been exporting it around the country," he said.
Cleaver said he sees "every day" examples of colleagues applauding each other for saying toxic things.
"Your colleagues pat you on the back and say 'boy that was good, you called him, you called her, such a good name' and that's celebrated," recounted Cleaver.
"If you really are nasty to somebody and if you had a hidden microphone, you could hear people are saying, it's like, 'good job' and we've got to stop it," he said.
Cleaver suggested it is time for a government watchdog group to focus its energy strictly on civility.
"They would somehow rank us on the basis of our civility because nothing is going to be done here, with all the issues facing us, until we become more civil," said Cleaver.
He also admonished his colleagues for pointing fingers about hostile rhetoric elsewhere.
"We can't blame talk radio or anyone else. We are the band, the president is the orchestra director and we can't blame people for picking up a bad tune. We've got to stand up and declare that the 112th congress has a clean slate. Whether it's defiled or not is up to each member of Congress," he said.