WASHINGTON — Somber and shaken members of Congress put politics aside for at least a few hours as they walked through the halls of the United States Capitol Wednesday after a gunman went on a shooting rampage targeting Republican lawmakers at an early morning bipartisan baseball practice at a nearby Virginia field.
Emotional lawmakers spent the day consoling each other and recounting their experience as most official business in the House of Representatives was put on hold until tomorrow. Democrats and Republicans vowed to tone down their rhetoric and increase bipartisanship.
House Speaker Paul Ryan took to the floor to address the shooting that wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, two Congressional and four others. "There are very strong emotions throughout this House today," Ryan said.
"We are all horrified by this dreadful attack on our friends and on our colleagues and those who serve and protect this capital. We are all praying for those who were attacked and for their families,” Ryan said. “And we are united. We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
Ryan hailed the bravery of the two members of the Capitol Police present and injured during the incident, saying that without them, “many lives would have been lost.”
And he urged members of both parties to unite. “For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire. These were our brothers and sisters who ran into danger and saved countless lives. So before this House returns to its business, let’s just slow down and reflect, to think about how we’re all being tested right now, because we are being tested right now. I ask each of you to join me to resolve to come together to lift each other up, and to show the country, to show the world that we are one House, the People’s House, united in our humanity.”
The members on the baseball field were holding their last practice for their annual Congressional baseball game, an annual tradition dating back to 1909 that is celebrated as a thriving bastion of bipartisanship, especially in hyper-partisan times.
In a show of bipartisanship, the coach of the Democratic team, Rep. Mike Doyle, R-Penn., invited the Republican team members to dinner and drinks at the Democratic Club Wednesday night.
"We want to have them to dinner and have a time to be with each other and reflect on this day and share food and drink and get to know each other a bit better," Doyle said.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas,the coach of the Republican team, said he's only been to the Democratic Club once and joked, "I'll bring my food taster and we'll be there."
Members who attended the practice when the shooting happened filed into the Capitol in their baseball clothes and emotionally recounted the dramatic scene.
Bargon grew emotional as he described what he saw to reporters when he returned to the Capitol.
“He shot at Trent Kelley, our third baseman. He shot at Steve Scalise, our second baseman. He hit Steve Scalise. Scalise's security detail and Capitol Hill police immediately returned fireand Alexandria police also immediately came and began to return fire. They shot the shooter and I think the security detail saved a lot of lives because they attacked the shooter.”
Barton’s two children also attended the practice with him, including his 10-year old.
“Some of us were in the dugout," Barton said. "Some of us were on the ground. I was behind the dugout. My son Jack got under an SUV and he was very brave. My other son Brad was in the, the batting cage and he also is very brave.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., left practice minutes before the shooting. He said he fist-bumped Scalise before he left and spoke to someone on his way out who he thinks could have been the shooter.
"I did have an interaction with someone in the parking lot who asked me if the team practicing was a Democratic or Republican team. I told him they were Republicans," Duncan said.
After a briefing with the U.S. Capitol Sergeant of Arms and Congressional leaders, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., stopped to speak with reporters. He said that Scalise had gotten out of surgery and is doing “very well.” Hospital officials said Scalise is listed in critical condition
He grew emotional about his friend, Scalise. “I’ve known Steve — we were back in Young Republicans together — long before we ever served together,” McCarthy said before getting emotional and walking away. “I’ll talk to you guys later.”
Tourists continued to swarm the Capitol, listening to tour guides as they meandered through the building. Their joyful mood was a contrast from the lawmakers struggling to make sense of a shooting that affects thousands of people each year but has happened to them.
The House cancelled all official business on the House floor Wednesday except for statements by Speaker Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Most seats in the House floor were filled by members to hear their statements in a show of unity and support.
Pelosi seconded Ryan's remarks. "To my colleagues, you're going to hear me say something you've never heard me say before," Pelosi said on the House floor. "I identify myself with the remarks of the Speaker. They were beautiful remarks, Mr. Speaker, thank you so much for the sentiments that they represent."
Democrats and Republicans also gathered for an all-member briefing to get an update on what happened. Members left the meeting saying that a major topic of discussion was members' security. Lawmakers stood to discuss the death threats they receive and they discussed moving their district offices into court buildings that already have ample security.
It’s not only the members and their staffs reeling from the tragedy. The Capitol Police are greatly impacted as one of their members was shot defending Scalise and the lawmakers and another sustained an ankle injury. Earlier it was believed both officers had been shot.
Security was tightened on the Hill and more police called into work. But their humanity was on display. A woman walked up to a U.S. Capitol Police officer and gave him an extended hug.
Some lawmakers began pointing toward political rhetoric that has gotten out of hand as something that might have motivated the attack.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., who is also a Naval psychologist who deals with trauma, said that witnesses and victims are going to need support not only on this day but in the days ahead. He said, however, that politics needs to calm down.
"The one thing we gotta do is stop the hateful rhetoric around here. It’s never excusable for a leader, a politician, a comedian, an actor. So it's gotta stop," Murphy said. "It’s a time we all have to be reflecting on ourselves, asking, 'Do we do this?' Do we try and destroy someone with our words?"
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, said, “It’s the political hate and the rhetoric that we've seen that's ratcheted up that has got to stop and that's the reason I'm here today talking to you.”
“We've got to stop this rhetoric, we've got to stop the hate and today's the day that has to be America's breaking point where Republicans and Democrats come together and say enough is enough," he said.