Politics

After Shooting, Members ‘Numb’ — And Defiant

Some argue game must go on

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, center, and his sons, board the Rayburn subway in the basement of the Capitol after a shooting at the Republicans’ baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Members of Congress reacted to the shooting at the Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday morning with a mixture of sadness, shock and defiance. 

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, along with a Capitol Police officer, a lobbyist and a staffer were shot. Another Capitol Police officer was injured, as was Rep. Roger Williams of Texas.

“I want the game to go on. We cannot cower in the corner,” said Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, who is on the Republican team but had left practice before the shooting occurred. “And I guarantee you Steve Scalise and anybody involved in the congressional baseball game will say that the game should go on.”

The 56th annual Congressional Baseball Game, which pits congressional Republicans against Democrats, is scheduled for Thursday. 

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were reportedly huddling over whether the game at Nationals Park should be rescheduled. House members will be briefed Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m. Ryan and Pelosi will address the House from the floor at noon following the meeting. Events across the Capitol, including House floor votes, were canceled or postponed

The game itself, played annually for charity, was set to honor the victims of the Manchester and London terror attacks and British Ambassador Nigel Kim Darroch was slated to throw out the first pitch.

“I’m shocked. I’m grieved. I’m numb,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry told Roll Call at the Capitol. “Steve Scalise is a close friend of mine.”

Trump After Alexandria Shooting: Scalise a Patriot, Fighter and Will Recover

“All of us receive the aggressive comments,” the Nebraska Republican said.“The aggressive nature of the political environment now is one thing, but when it spills over to violence against a fellow member or anyone in society, it’s just very hard to process.”

When asked if there was concern about security outside the Capitol, Fortenberry replied, “Of course.”

“A lot of people ask me that: ‘Where’s your security?’ It is assumed that there is robust security at all times around us. But that’s just not reality,” he said.

Rep. Brad Sherman called the shooting “an attack on our democracy.”

“The best response is to be here doing our jobs,” the California Democrat said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday morning.

Some members expressed concern about their personal safety at constituent events. 

Virginia GOP Rep. Dave Brat said the hostile environment that could have factored into the shooting in Alexandria could cause members to “recalibrate” and reconsider events like town halls.

“It’s a wake up call,” he told Roll Call. “We should not be doing this.”

Johnson, the Ohio Republican, was circumspect about the broader question of security at the Capitol, saying the shooting could have happened anywhere. 

“I think that goes to the bigger question of security everywhere,” Johnson said when asked if the shooting raises concerns about security outside of the Capitol complex. “This could have happened at any baseball field in America. There’s Little League programs going on all over the country right now.”

Johnson declined to speculate on whether the shooting was politically motivated but noted he had heard other members say that the shooter asked if it was Republicans or Democrats who were practicing on the field.

“I’m concerned about the temper in our country,” he said. Johnson said he was born in the 1950s and raised in the 1960s and that he remembers the political transformation the country went through during the Vietnam War.

“It played out in the streets of our cities and on college campuses as the American people reacted to what they were seeing on television,” he said. “I can tell you that today that the American people — everybody, in fact the world — is seeing inside the American political and governing machine in a way that they’ve never seen before.”

“And that’s just happened over the last 10, 15 years. And so there’s a lot of reaction to what people are seeing and perceiving. And that’s why it is so vitally, vitally important that we all understand that the process of governing is a very, very difficult process,” he said.

Rep. Mark Meadows told Roll Call that the biggest takeaway from the shooting is how the Capitol Police quietly serve them every day, but the North Carolina Republican acknowledged that there is a concern about safety when members are outside the Capitol complex.

“For many of us, we’re probably more concerned about security for our family members and friends than we are personally,” he said. “But having security detail there [at the baseball practice] was obviously lifesaving for many people. Anytime that you’ve got a number of high-profile members, there needs to be precautions.”

The Capitol Police officers were part of Scalise’s security detail and were there to protect him. Absent Scalise’s presence, Capitol Police would not necessarily have been in attendance. There has been no security detail at the Democrats’ baseball practices, for instance. 

Meadows said he takes precautions when in his district and tries to have local police present for public events, regardless of whether there’s a specific threat. When Roll Call shadowed Meadows at a few public events in May, there were local police officers present.

“I worry more about the law enforcement than I do myself, and obviously, today is a different day,” he said. “I think probably the thing that’s most touching to me is how many people are really concerned about us individually. … We can talk about policy all day long, but when something like this happens, it makes you focus more on the personal.”

The North Carolina Republican was also insistent that Thursday’s game should go on. 

“Tomorrow night’s baseball game needs to go on. It shouldn’t change what we do,” said Meadows, who is not on the team.

Joe Williams, Alex Gangitano and Patrick Kelley contributed to this report. 

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