Members of Congress are deeply shaken after the shooting of their colleague Wednesday morning and hoping the incident brings them together rather than tears them apart.
“We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family.”
Republican Rep. Martha McSally said Republican and Democratic House members joined hands and prayed after learning of the shooting. “Holding hands and praying together, I haven’t seen a moment like that since I’ve been here,” she said. “So perhaps this can serve, even though it was intended for evil, it can serve as a wake up call for all of us to think about how we’re vilifying and engaging with people who disagree with us.”
But swirling around the Capitol are rumors that the shooting itself, which injured Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others, was partisan. Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan believes the shooter specifically targeted the baseball practice in Alexandria because it was the Republican team. Duncan left practice early Wednesday, fist-bumping Scalise on his way out. A man who matches the description of the shooter approached Duncan in the parking lot and asked him whether this was a gathering of Democratic or Republican members.
“I responded that it was the Republican team practicing, and he proceeded to shoot Republicans,” Duncan said. “Take that for what it’s worth.”
The shooter, James Hodgkinson, was also reportedly a fierce opponent of President Trump and volunteered for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders said when informed of the connection.
Duncan and other members of the Republican baseball team are haunted by the events of the morning, many finding themselves considering alternate scenarios in which Scalise, and therefore his Capitol police security detail, hadn’t been there. “Had they not been there it could have been worse, dramatically worse,” said Republican Rep. Mike Conaway. “Had the gunman got inside the fence where our team was… [he] would have been shooting fish in a barrel.”
Republican Rep. Joe Barton became visibly emotional talking to reporters about the incident, still dressed in jeans, sneakers and his baseball uniform and standing by his young son, who was also at the practice and still dressed in baseball gear. “I can’t emphasize this enough,” Barton said of the police, “they attacked the shooter, and that saved our lives.”
The fact that Capitol police were only there because Scalise is a member of leadership has led other members to fear for their own safety. “They’ve told us to be more vigilant,” said Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán. “There’s certainly a lot of concern right now on our staff… This discussion isn’t going to end.” Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said multiple members expressed concerns in a meeting with leadership, asking for budgeting that would allow them to have security at their homes and to meet in secure locations. “A lot of members were asking for changes,” he said.
For now, many members of Congress are trying not to politicize the shooting, and those who were there are trying to recover from the trauma. “The world changed a little bit for us as members,” said Duncan.
And the congressional baseball game itself, a good-natured battle of Democrats versus Republicans, is scheduled to go on Thursday night as planned, an announcement that was met with cheers from the members. “I hope we continue the game,” Barton said. “It’s in some ways what democracy is all about.”