Lawmakers Call For Civility Following Shooting at Virginia Ballfield
WASHINGTON (Updated 7:06 p.m.) — Connecticut lawmakers joined others on Capitol Hill Wednesday in a call for political civility across America following an early morning shooting where the third ranking House Republican was wounded in gunfire at a ballfield in Alexandria, Virginia during a baseball practice.
“I hope if anything comes out of this it will be a commitment for all of us to examine our tone, and trust and respect each other,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who worries that the “demonization of people who disagree with us politically” may have fueled the attack. “I have for quite some time said that the people I serve with are patriots. They love this country and they are elected to go do a job — and so am I. We need to respect each other.”
Esty’s comment came moments after House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed similar sentiments to a packed chamber. The mood was somber as members filed off the floor to return to their offices. The House canceled further floor action for the day.
The Senate continued its business Wednesday but a number of members went to the floor to speak about the incident earlier in the day that left a lone gunman dead and five victims injured.
About two dozen Republican lawmakers were at the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, a baseball field about nine miles from Capitol Hill, in preparation for the annual Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday.
Steve Scalise, No. 3 in the House of Representatives Republican leadership, was shot in the hip. He was tended to by fellow lawmakers including Brad Wenstrup, an Ohio congressman who is a physician, before being transported to a hospital.
Also wounded were one current congressional aide and one former aide who now works as a lobbyist, officials said. One Capitol Hill police officer also suffered a gunshot wound and another officer suffered a non-gunshot injury, an official said.
The gunman, identified by a senior U.S. official as James Hodgkinson from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, died of his injuries. Hodgkinson worked as a home inspector.
His social media presence indicated he was strongly opposed to Republicans, including President Donald Trump. Police and the FBI said it was too early to determine a motive in the shooting or whether the attack was an attempted political assassination.
Trump announced the gunman’s death and called Scalise, a 51-year-old Louisiana congressman, a good friend. Speaking at the White House, Trump said Scalise was “badly injured” but in stable condition and would recover.
“He’s a patriot and he’s a fighter. He will recover from this assault,” Trump said.
The charity game — pitting a team of Senate and House Democrats against Senate and House Republicans — will go on as scheduled at Washington Nationals Park. Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy is a member of the Democratic team, which practices at a different field, he was not at their practice on Wednesday.
In an interview Wednesday, he said it was particularly sad that the gunman would target a baseball practice for a charity event.
“For all that is wrong with Washington, the baseball game is one of the things that is right,” he said. “To think the shooter would target an event defined by fellowship and bipartisanship.”
Murphy said that he has he considers Scalise a friend. “I’ve known him because we both play in the game. I’m the catcher so I get to talk to every Republican at bat. He is always one of the chattier members at the game.”
Thursday’s game is the 80th game and raises money for the Washington Literacy Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. Organizers said they added a fourth charity following the shooting — The Fallen Officers Fund.
Murphy is expected to be behind the plate for the Democrats when the game begins at 7 p.m. Thursday. Reps. Esty, Rosa DeLauro and Joe Courtney said they plan to be there as a sign of support for Congress.
“Absolutely,” DeLauro said. “We will be going because we’ve got to show support for one another. There is a sense that we really are one body — and we love this country all of us, together.”
“My hip and back don’t permit me to play, but I’ll be there to watch,” said Courtney, who added that the attack wasn’t on a single public official but an attack on the government and democracy.
Rep. Jim Himes said he would go to the game if his schedule permitted. As to the attack, he said that every act of violence is horrifying but when it “hits this close” it is particularly unnerving. He also noted that House members gathered privately to discuss the incident in what was a “very reflective” moment for all.
“We realized that we’ve got to remember that we set the tone,” he said. “Clearly, there was a commitment in the room that we set a good and civil tone. That is one thing we can do to honor what happened today.”
Esty said it was ironic that the shooting occurred on the same day of the Sandy Hook Promise gala being held here in D.C. to raise money and awareness for gun safety. The event has been planned for months and organizers decided it should go on despite the morning shooting.
Sandy Hook Promise is a nonpartisan, grassroots nonprofit dedicated to building healthy, supportive communities where children are safe from gun violence. It was organized after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six educators.
“Today America’s national pastime sadly meets America’s national epidemic. The horrific shootings in Alexandria and in San Francisco show that more conversations are needed every day about preventing gun violence in our country,” the group said in a statement. “This is not about more guns, which we know would not have prevented this event in spite of the presence of Congressman Scalise’s armed detail. This is about prevention and education, about knowing the signs of someone who might commit an act of violence and how to stop it from happening in the first place. Our hearts go out to all of the victims and their loved ones.”
Po Murray, Chairman of Newtown Action Alliance, also issued a statement Wednesday renewing the group’s call for strong gun laws: “We must take steps now to stem the tide of this growing epidemic. With lax gun laws and more than 300 million guns in the United States, no Republican, Democrat, Independent or unaffiliated citizen is safe from gun violence.”
In a show of bipartisan unity, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the floor of the House, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” The House’s top Democrat Nancy Pelosi echoed Ryan’s message.
Hodgkinson had raged against Trump on social media and was a member of many anti-Republican groups on Facebook, including “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans,” “Terminate The Republican Party,” and, “Donald Trump is not my President,” a search of what appeared to be his profile showed.
The shooting happened shortly after 7 a.m., with lawmakers practicing their hitting and fielding a day before the annual charity congressional baseball game pitting Republicans against Democrats. There were 20 House members and two senators present, and the shooting lasted about 10 minutes, said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the Republican team’s manager.
Barton said there were four Capitol Hill police officers there, and two Alexandria officers arrived within five minutes.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, told reporters at the scene that at least 50 shots were fired from behind the third base dugout. Scalise was at second base when he was struck in the hip and went down. He dragged himself about 15 yards into the outfield and laid there until the gunman was taken down.
Scalise was transported to MedStar Washington Hospital Center where he underwent surgery and is now recovering.
Two lawmakers who were at the scene, Reps. Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan, indicated there might have been a political motive in the attack.
Duncan said that as he left the field the man who would later open fire approached him in the parking lot. “He asked me who was practicing this morning, Republicans or Democrats, and I said. ‘That’s the Republicans practicing,” Duncan told reporters.
DeSantis gave a similar account.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he had been told that Hodgkinson had served as a volunteer with his campaign.
“Let me be as clear as I can be: violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” Sanders said.
The shooting drew thoughts and prayers on social media from members of Congress including the Connecticut delegation:
Sen. Chris Murphy — We are all pulling for you @SteveScalise. My heart is with you, the Capitol Police, and everyone who was on the scene.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty — Praying for @SteveScalise, my @HouseGOP & @SenateGOP colleagues & the Capitol Police who work everyday to keep people safe.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal — My heart goes out to Congressman Scalise, his staff, and the security officials involved in this horrific shooting in Alexandria.
Rep. Jim Himes — Horrified by the attack on the Congressional family in VA this morning. Praying for those injured and grateful for those who keep us safe.
Rep. Joe Courtney — Keeping @SteveScalise, other members, staff, and Capitol Police who may have been injured in my thoughts. Horrified by this act of violence.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro — Keeping all of those affected by this morning’s senseless shooting in Virginia in my prayers.
Rep. John Larson — My staff & I are safe. We stand in solidarity w/ our Rep. colleagues & in prayer for @SteveScalise, staff, the Alexandria, & @CapitolPolice.