Capitol Hill shaken by baseball shooting

Capitol Hill was shaken Wednesday after a gunman opened fire on Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four others in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va.

President Trump announced at a White House press conference that the alleged assailant, identified by the FBI as James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., died of injuries sustained in a firefight with Capitol Police.

Scalise is out of surgery and is expected to recover, though his hospital on Wednesday afternoon said he remains in critical condition. Alexandria police chief Michael Brown said two Capitol Police officers were injured but are in stable condition.

{mosads}A staffer for Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) was shot but tweeted that he is recovering. A lobbyist for Tyson Foods was also shot. His condition is not known. 

One of the victims was airlifted off of the baseball field while the others were rushed away in ambulances. The FBI has taken over the investigation.

Rattled lawmakers recounted a harrowing scene in the moments after the shooting, which is believed to have dragged on for 10 minutes or more, according to eye-witness accounts.

The violence was even more nerve-wracking given the political implications.

It appeared the GOP lawmakers were targeted in the shooting, and it seems possible the gunman was motivated by politics.

The shooter stalked the playing field with a rifle as panicked lawmakers and staffers fell to their bellies, scurried to the dugout, climbed fences and looked for makeshift barriers to hide behind.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) described seeing Scalise get shot in the hip by a bullet as he manned second base. Unable to run, Scalise tried to drag himself across the field in search of cover.

Flake and others waited for the shooting to stop before rushing to give him aid. Flake used Scalise’s phone to call Scalise’s wife so that she would not find out about the shooting from media reports.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said he used his belt as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding of a victim he came upon as he ran for cover.

“We have nothing but baseball bats to fight back against a rifle with,” Brooks said on CNN.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he had just left the field to practice in a batting cage about 50 yards away. Paul and a staffer, who scrambled over a tall fence amid the hail of bullets, hid behind a tree. Paul said they couldn’t determine what side of the tree to stand on because the volley of gunfire popped all around them. He estimated that 50 to 60 rounds were fired.

In a measured tone on cable news shows in the minutes after the shooting, Paul described the baseball diamond as a “killing field” and said that many more lawmakers and staffers would have been gravely wounded or killed if not for Capitol Police.

As the third-ranking Republican, Scalise is one of the few lawmakers who is afforded a security detail.

“Had they not been there it would have been a massacre,” Paul said.

Still dressed in their baseball uniforms, emotional Republican lawmakers matriculated back to the Capitol. They held hands in prayer before a members-only briefing and recounted the horror of the day, oftentimes choking back tears.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the manager of the Republican baseball team, faced reporters alongside his 10-year-old son. Flake said he and others shielded the boy during the gunfight.

The Congressional Baseball Game, a yearly event for charity that lawmakers have long said is helpful in bridging the partisan divide, will go on as planned at Nationals Park on Thursday.

“We will use this occasion as one that brings us together,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said.

Work in Washington has ground to a halt. 

House votes were canceled, as was Senate testimony from Defense Secretary James Mattis and a press conference in which Democrats planned to announce a new lawsuit against Trump over his business interests.

Trump, who turned 71 on Wednesday, canceled a policy speech on workforce development at the Department of Labor. The president had also planned to sign an executive order there.

Still, politics quickly moved to the forefront.

Reporters mined the Facebook page of Hodgkinson, the alleged shooter, who appeared to gravitate to liberal politics and was a volunteer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders said in a statement. “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.”

Several Republicans tied the shooting to what they viewed as political rhetoric that has spun out of control.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), an unofficial adviser to Trump who is promoting a new book on the president, said the shooting was the result of “increasing intensity of hostility” on the left.

The shooting recalled the deadly incident in which a gunman opened fire on a town hall event in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, badly wounding Rep. Gabby Giffords (D). Giffords, who resigned from Congress in 2012, has since become a prominent anti-gun activist. 

At a press conference with the Alexandria police chief, Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe (D) called for stricter gun laws.

“There are too many guns on the streets,” McAuliffe said.

Addressing reporters in his practice gear near the crime scene, Brooks, the Alabama Republican, countered with a fierce defense of the Second Amendment.

“We are not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say ugly things and hurt some people’s feelings and we’re not going to get rid of the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure rights because some criminals could go free who should be behind bars,” Brooks said. “These rights are there to protect Americans, and while each of them has a negative aspect to them, they are fundamental to our being the greatest nation in world history.”

At a hastily arranged press conference in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Trump called for calm and unity. 

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Jeff Flake Mo Brooks Rand Paul Roger Williams
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