Bipartisan baseball game a show of unity after shooting

Bipartisan baseball game a show of unity after shooting
© Greg Nash

Democrats won the annual Congressional Baseball Game Thursday night, but this year the focus of the charity event had nothing to do with winners or losers.

The game has been played almost every year since 1909, but Thursday’s contest held an extra layer of significance: A day earlier, a gunman had stalked the suburban baseball field where members of the Republican team were practicing. He fired a blizzard of rounds, hitting five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

The incident hung like a cloud over the players and the crowd, which came out in record numbers in a show of solidarity, defiance and hope that Scalise, who is in critical condition, will soon recover. Game organizers said nearly 25,000 people were in attendance, raising $1.5 million for local charities and the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

Those clouds were everywhere. Rep. Roger WilliamsRoger WilliamsHouse panel sets guidelines for lawmaker security budgets Threats against lawmakers already higher than all of 2016 House approves extra funding for lawmaker security MORE (R-Texas), who had injured an ankle at Wednesday’s practice running away from the shooter, joined the lineup on crutches. And David Bailey, one of two Capitol Police officers injured in the exchange of bullets that left the assailant dead, threw out the first pitch.

The crowd reacted with a roar.

After the sides were introduced, Scalise’s name was announced, his image projected on the enormous screen looming over the buzzing crowd. The standing ovation was immediate — and lengthy — and the signs commemorating the injured majority whip came out in force. “Scalise Strong,” was the simple message on many of them.

The players then huddled together around second base — Scalise’s position — where they prayed on bended knees.

Minutes before the start of the game, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSchumer: Dems, not Russia, are to blame for loss to Trump Repair is the only “R” word that can solve our healthcare woes OPINION | How Democrats stole the nation's lower federal courts MORE (D-N.Y.) said it was important to members that the show go on. 

“It’s sad, but it’s good we’re doing it,” he said. 

President Trump, speaking by video before the first pitch, emphasized the tragic circumstances and praised the teams for their resolve.

“By playing tonight, you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy,” he said. “The game will go on.”

The game was not close. The Democrats — behind their ace pitcher and close friend of Scalise, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) — won the contest 11-2, avenging last year’s loss and regaining their claim of dominance in the event over the last decade.

But the Democrats’ manager, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), handed the trophy across the aisle, where it will sit in Scalise’s office awaiting the Republican whip's recovery.

"Next year we won't be as nice to you," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the Republicans’ manager, joked in accepting the trophy. 

"Seriously, we are going to put this trophy in Steve's office until he comes back to work."

Both chambers of Congress had recessed for the week on Thursday, but hundreds of lawmakers stuck around in Washington for a chance to be a part of the game, played at Nationals Park in Washington's Southeast quadrant.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP divided over care for transgender troops Want bipartisan health reform? Make the debate honest again Ex-CBO directors defend against GOP attacks on ObamaCare analysis MORE (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) staged an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper at the stadium, where the two leaders shed their adversarial talking points in a show of bipartisan camaraderie. Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails Parliamentarian deals setback to GOP repeal bill OPINION | How Democrats stole the nation's lower federal courts MORE (R-Ky.) appeared together in a similar show of unity.

"We’re here together tonight to make the point to the American people that there is a whole lot of cooperation in the Congress," McConnell said.

Other lawmakers in attendance voiced a similar message.

"We want to make a statement by playing tonight," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told The Hill after posing for a picture with Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).

"People who do these horrible things are trying to disrupt our way of life, and I think we want to show we're going to go about our business and we're going to do more to help this wonderful cause and despite this tragedy, despite the suffering of Steve Scalise and the others who were wounded. We're out here to support them tonight by being here."

While Trump did not attend, his elder daughter Ivanka was present. Appearing with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the pair donated $50,000 to the charity from ”Friends in the Trump administration." White House press secretary Sean Spicer was also spotted, queuing up in the line for District Drafts.

The crowd was largely segregated — the Republican fans along the first-base seats and the Democrats occupying the third-base side. But members made a statement by breaching those lines. 

Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) sat side by side. And two Pennsylvania congressmen, Democrat Dwight Evans and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, also sat together.

The two teams greeted each other before the game began.

“We were giving each other hugs,” said Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.). “A little bit of trash talking, too, but hugs.”

The hopeful calls for a new era of comity are hardly new. Lawmakers united with similar eyes on bipartisan warmth in 2011, following a mass shooting at a public outreach event held by then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head during the incident but survived.

Lawmakers were disheartened that Trump, after calling Wednesday for unity in the name of “the common good,” returned Thursday to his Twitter habit to lash out at his general election opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSchumer: Dems, not Russia, are to blame for loss to Trump Dem rep: Kushner ‘lied’, should be investigated Scaramucci deleting old tweets to avoid 'distraction' MORE, and those conducting the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Some lawmakers at the game expressed hope that Congress would ignore the mixed messages coming from the White House and unite in the wake of Wednesday’s tragic shooting.

“I’m not hopeful for him,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said of Trump, “but I’m hopeful for us.”

That sentiment was shared throughout the animated game. 

“Every once in awhile it takes something bad to happen for people to start thinking about something good happening,” said Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.). 

“And I think that’s what’s happening here now.”