Members vow to press ahead with business and baseball, but they also feel increasingly threatened.
The House is still reeling after the Wednesday shooting of a member of Congress, a staffer, a lobbyist, and two Capitol Police officers at an early-morning baseball practice, but the prevailing sentiment is that the game must go on.
That rings true equally for the business of governing and the Congressional Baseball Game, for which the Republicans were practicing when a gunman opened fire and which will go on as scheduled Thursday evening. After scrapping Wednesday’s floor schedule, the House is expected to hold votes on Thursday and adjourn for the balance of the week.
“You’ll see increased security at the game, but it’s important to let people know we’re going to keep going and you can’t let someone get you off what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Rep. Gregg Harper. “The game needs to go on. I think Republicans and Democrats alike agree we need to play the game. I think it’ll be very emotional.”
Despite the defiance and shows of unity, members are already talking about adjusting their behavior and security after Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot. Harper, who as chairman of the House Administration Committee has oversight of the Capitol Police, said that he and his Senate counterparts will examine security protocols but that it is too early to tell whether any changes will be made.
“We’re always concerned about members’ security, so that’ll be an ongoing assessment as we go on. It’s still too early to come up with perhaps a policy change or something of that nature,” he said.
Many members, some who play on the baseball team, pointed out that the only reason police officers were present and able to counter the attacker was because Scalise was in attendance and the two officers were members of his security detail. If not for his presence, members would have been unguarded, as they often are when they are off the heavily fortified Capitol complex.
“In a sense Steve Scalise took a bullet for many of his colleagues,” Rep. Trent Franks said. “If he hadn’t have been there, he wouldn’t have been hit. But if he hadn’t have been there, many others would have been.”
As a result, some members are beginning to question whether tighter security should be put in place for larger groups of members, even if there are no members of leadership present.
“At what point do you have a congregation of members—we’re not any more special than anybody else but we are targets—do you have a security detail with you?” asked Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who witnessed the shooting.
With the shooting still fresh in members’ minds, the Capitol Hill community is badly shaken. It was only a few years ago that then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot at a constituent event in Arizona. Republican members noted that threats against them and their families seem to be on the rise since the inauguration of President Trump. Some members called for tamping down political rhetoric.
Rep. Martha McSally, who now holds the district Giffords represented, said an individual who made threats against her will be arraigned later this week and noted that the political climate seems to be stoking these threats.
“I don’t want to politicize this, but I do think we need to take a hard look inside,” McSally said. “I think it’s an important time to see this as a wake-up call. We saw this in my community in 2011. We talked it about after the death threats against myself, and I said then, a month ago, I feel like that in this environment it’s only a matter of time before some act of violence is taken.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan said that he believes the gunman targeted the members because they are Republican. Duncan said he was leaving the baseball practice early when a man asked whether it was Democrats or Republicans who were practicing. He said he only realized later that the man was the gunman who opened fire after the interaction.
“He asked me if it was a Republican or Democratic team practicing and I told him it was a Republican team. And he proceeded to shoot Republicans,” Duncan said. “I’m going to take it as he was targeting Republicans.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis, who was with Duncan during that interaction with the gunman, said that he, on the other hand, wants to withhold judgment until the facts surface.
“I think there’s evidence that this particular individual may have acted because of a political motive. I still think you have to prove that somehow the culture prompted him to do that. I don’t know. Maybe he just did it on his own. I don’t want to get carried away with that,” DeSantis said.
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