Attack on congressman shocks Connecticut delegation
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Elisabeth Esty, D-Conn., said she knew something serious was happening when she saw two Secret Service agents enter the Congressional gym where she and Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan were working out at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
“They couldn’t see him behind a pillar so I motioned them over to where he was,” Esty said. “They pulled him aside and escorted him out. I knew something pretty serious had to be up.”
Esty found out about 45 minutes later that Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, and four others had been shot by a gunman at a congressional baseball practice for Republican team members in Alexandria, Virgina, officials said. The rifle-wielding assailant, now identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, from Illinois died after being shot by police who were trying to stop the attack.
Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader first elected to the House in 2008, was reported to be in critical condition following surgery Wednesday afternoon.
FBI special agent in charge Tim Slater said it was “too early to say” if Scalise was targeted.
Speaker Ryan identified the wounded Capitol Police officers as David Bailey and Crystal Griner. Also wounded was former congressional aide Matt Mika, who now works for Tysons Food in its Washington office. Mika’s family said the lobbyist was shot multiple times and was in critical condition and in surgery Wednesday.
Hodgkinson was a former volunteer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Sanders was quick to condemn the attack.
Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he believes Hodgkinson asked him minutes before the shooting which party was practicing at the field.
Associated Press reports indicate that Hodgkinson was anti-Trump based on his social media activity. According to AP, Hodgkinson has had minor run-ins with law enforcement and belonged to a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.”
The charity game between Democratic and Republican lawmakers is still set for tonight.
“It’s shocking and concerning,” said Esty who has not played in the game but plans on attending. “Our prayers are for a full recovery for my colleague from Louisiana and for a full recovery for the two Capitol police officers and the staffer and former staffer who were shot.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a catcher on the Democratic team, wasn’t at his party’s practice, which was underway at a separate location. He plans on playing tonight, which will be his 11th game with the Democratic team. “It’s a wonderful event, it raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity,” Murphy said.
“My heart sank in my stomach,” when I heard the news, Murphy said. “We have Capitol Police at our practices but you never think they are going to have to take action,” he said. “This is tragic and hits very close to home for those of us who know Steve.”
The Connecticut delegation was quick to show their support for the victims and call for unity on Capitol Hill and throughout the nation. “My heart goes out to Congressman Scalise, his staff, and the security officials involved in this horrific shooting,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a statement. I am especially grateful this morning for the swift action of the Capitol Police, who unhesitatingly disregarded danger to themselves in protecting others. I am hopeful we can put aside politics and support all affected.”
U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., called the shootings on unarmed colleagues “cowardly” and pointed out that some Republicans had brought their children to the practice. “This was a senseless act against defenseless people,” said Larson who acts as the manager of the Democratic team. “I’m so proud we’re going to play the game tomorrow night. You can’t let this stand in the way of what Americans do.”
In the wake of the shootings, Esty and Larson called for lawmakers and the public to tone down their political rhetoric and show support for public servants. Hodgkinson’s motive for the attacks is still unclear, Larson said, but he was anti-Trump.
In a press conference following the shootings Wednesday, President Donald Trump said, “Congressman Scalise is a friend, and a very good friend. He’s a patriot.”