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Gunman attacks GOP lawmakers
A friendly tradition became a field of horror on Wednesday when a gunman opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game in a Washington suburb, wounding five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and two members of his security detail.
The victims were rushed to area hospitals, where Scalise underwent emergency surgery and remained in critical condition Wednesday evening. One other victim was also critically wounded.
The gunman, injured in a shootout with Scalise's security team, later died after being transported to a local hospital. He was identified by the FBI as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old Illinois native with a history of lashing out at Republicans and their policy agenda.
The violence quickly upended Capitol Hill, leaving lawmakers visibly shaken and raising questions about the adequacy of Congress's security safeguards.
GOP leaders huddled in the House for an all-members briefing with Capitol Police, and they canceled votes and most House committee meetings as lawmakers grappled with the nation's latest mass shooting, this one targeting their own.
"We are united in our shock and anguish," Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in speech on the packed House floor.
"An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."
At a quickly staged news conference, President Trump hailed the patriotism of Scalise and the heroism of the Capitol Police officers, while urging the country to seek peaceful solutions to partisan disputes.
"We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation's capital is here because, above all, they love our country," Trump said from the White House.
"We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified, and when we work together for the common good."
The attacker struck early Wednesday at a park in Alexandria, Va., where dozens of Republican lawmakers, staff members and even some of their children had gathered to practice for this year's annual Congressional Baseball Game.
Witnesses said Hodgkinson crept behind the third-base dugout and started firing a rifle, hitting Scalise in the hip. He then trained his sights on others, hitting a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) and a Tyson Foods lobbyist, who was hit in the chest and remained in critical condition Wednesday evening.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who was on the first-base line, where most of the group had gathered, described the events.
"The shooter was not on the field and never got on the field. He stayed behind the third-base dugout, and then came around behind home plate, got behind a utility shed, and then darted out in front of the utility shed, and that's when he got shot," said Barton, whose two sons were also on the field.
"I was down and making sure my son was down."
Like several other players, Barton returned to the Capitol still wearing his cherry-red practice uniform. On the back of the shirt, in neat capital letters, was one word: Republicans.
The violent outburst elicited immediate memories of the 2011 shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was nearly killed while hosting a campaign event in her district, and it prompted one of those rare moments on Capitol Hill when lawmakers cast aside their partisan differences to condemn violence.
House lawmakers, gathered in the basement of the Capitol Visitors Center, held hands and prayed for the victims. And participants said there was a recognition from members of both parties that the rancorous political environment may be promoting violence and needs reining in.
"Republicans and Democrats were saying that what we say and do around here does resonate, and that the level of vitriol and attack and disrespect for other human beings is high right now," said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).
"Everybody applauded when we said we need to be mindful every moment to be better to each other in how we interact and how we speak."
Still, the mood was not all bipartisan affection. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said he bumped into the shooter as he was leaving the practice, and Hodgkinson wanted to know which party was on the field. Duncan told him it was the Republicans, then jumped into a car. Minutes later, the shooting began.
The account led to explicit suggestions from some Republicans that liberal attacks on Trump fueled the motivation behind the shooting – an argument quickly rejected by the Democrats.
"The fact of the matter is I'm not a Republican, and I've had all kinds of threats against me and my family," Clyburn said. "So that's bulls–-. It's got nothing to do with politics."
By all accounts, the carnage would have been much worse had it not been for the presence of the Capitol Police officers shadowing Scalise, whose leadership role means he's accompanied by a security detail at all public events.
"If the Capitol Police were not there," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), "a lot more members would have been wounded or killed."
The Republicans also seemed to benefit from a stroke of lucky timing.
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), a pitcher for the Republicans, said he and the other GOP hurlers usually practice near the third-base dugout, where the shooting originated. They were not there on Wednesday, he said, only because they'd pitched a day earlier and were resting their arms.
"We go into the cage one person at a time with the catchers and the coach," he said. "Because we had thrown yesterday, nobody was there."
In a show of defiance, organizers will not postpone the charity baseball game, which will be played Thursday night at Nationals Park in Washington, as scheduled.
[Source: By Mike Lillis, The Hill, Washington, 14Jun17]
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