Connecticut Congress members shaken by colleague’s shooting in Virginia
As the catcher for congressional Democrats baseball team, Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy has frequently crossed paths with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise — even engaging in some friendly trash talking.
So when a gunman opened fire Wednesday morning at the final practice tune-up for the Republican team in Alexandria, Va., wounding Murphy’s one-time House colleague and friend, it touched a nerve.
It immediately brought back emotions of the 2011 shooting of Murphy’s then-colleague, Gabby Giffords, during a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and Giffords with a severe brain injury.
“I’ve had two friends in Congress that have been shot during the short time that I’ve been here,” Murphy told Hearst Connecticut Media. “You take this job accepting that there’s a risk, but it doesn’t mean that days like today don’t shake you up.”
Scalise underwent surgery after being shot in the hip and was listed in critical condition, according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
“Steve is one of the chattier members of the Republican team,” Murphy said. “We always go back and forth when he comes up to the plate. Steve’s a guy who’s full of life and energy. He brings a real passion to his work. Obviously, we haven’t seen eye-to-eye on policy issues, but I consider him a friend.”
Two Capitol police officers, a congressional aide and a lobbyist wounded during the apparently politically-motivated shooting are expected to survive. The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., was killed in the firefight. Hodgkinson’s social media accounts were filled with anti-Republican and anti-Donald Trump screeds.
“The Capitol Police are at our practices in the morning,” Murphy said. “It’s always given me a sense of security to have them there, but also reminds you of the danger that comes with this profession when you see Capitol Police manning a 7 a.m. baseball practice.”
A tradition going back to 1909 and a source of major bragging rights, the congressional baseball game is still scheduled to be played Thursday night at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Both teams squeezed in final tune-ups Wednesday morning, with the Republicans practicing in Alexandria and the Democrats at Gallaudet University in D.C.
Murphy missed practice Wednesday. Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of his Senate filibuster protesting the lack of congressional action on gun control, for which Murphy grabbed national headlines. In contrast to Murphy’s “F” grade from the National Rifle Association, Scalise has an “A-plus.”
Scalise, 51, represents Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District, which includes New Orleans. He was first elected to the House in 2008, the same year that Democrat Jim Himes was elected in Connecticut’s 4th District.
“We were kind of like youngsters here together, so I got to know him early on,” Himes said. “He’s a very friendly presence around here.”
Himes said that security at the U.S. Capitol was visibly tighter Wednesday and that votes in the House were canceled.
“Because he’s leadership, he travels with a security detail,” Himes said. “If that security detail hadn’t been there (at practice), we could have had a much more serious tragedy.”
Members of Connecticut’s all-Democratic delegation said it was too early to say whether the incident could be a game changer for gun control reform efforts in Congress that have been blocked by Republicans..
“I don’t know. If 26 children and teachers dead in Sandy Hook doesn’t move this institution, I’m not sure anything will,” Himes said. “All kinds of people ask me what this means for gun safety and what this means for partisanship. By definition, (the shooter is) a sicko, so I’m going not leap to policy conclusions just yet.”
Wednesday’s shooting coincided with the annual gala in Washington, D.C., of Sandy Hook Promise, a gun safety group spawned by the December 2012 shooting in Newtown.
“It is ironic or appropriate, depending on how you look at it, that tonight, one of the few events that is still going to go forward in the nation’s capital, is the long-scheduled Sandy Hook Promise event to raise money and awareness of the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.
Esty was taking a spinning class with Democrats and Republicans in the House gym Wednesday morning when the shooting took place. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., was doing his P90X workout regimen nearby when members of his security detail pulled him aside.
“His face just went ashen,” Esty said.
Even before Wednesday’s shooting, Esty said, the political climate has been getting more poisonous, with Congress members and their families getting death threats. Not even Scalise was spared from Twitter barbs from the left, which Esty condemned.
“What we’re seeing, I think, is, in part, a reflection of angry and how demonized the political language has gotten over the last few years,” Esty said. “I am concerned that the 24/7 news cycle, social media, the vitriol that has been unleashed in political campaigns, has eroded that understanding and commitment to what binds us together as Americans.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said it was a shame that a tradition meant to engender camaraderie and raise money for charity, the congressional baseball game, had turned tragic.
“The bulk of members don’t have any security detail,” DeLauro said. “We do what we do. I don’t look back or over my shoulder. (But) it makes you stop and think.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who has met Scalise, but doesn’t know him, characterized the mood on Capitol Hill as “somber.”
“It’s a horrifying and horrific attack that reminds us of the bravery and dedication of our law enforcement community,” Blumenthal said. “It hopefully will produce no fatalities, but my heart and prayers go out to Rep Scalise, the staff members and police who were injured. Gun violence remains an ever-present danger in every community.”