WASHINGTON (AP) — The House gaveled back into session Thursday a day after a shooting critically wounded a top GOP leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and injured several others, including Capitol Police officers.
Lawmakers of both parties, shaken by the events of the previous day, took turns offering prayers for the wounded and calls for unity as they spoke on the House floor.
“When tragedy strikes we are family,” said Rep. Nanette Barragan of California, who plays on the Democratic baseball team and invited all to attend the charity baseball game Thursday night at Nationals Stadium.
Scalise remained in critical condition at a local hospital, his family by his side, grievously wounded by a bullet that entered at the hip and injured internal organs. He had been fielding balls at second base when he was hit, and dragged himself away from the infield, leaving a trail of blood until colleagues could rush to his aid.
Earlier Thursday, Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors to share reflections and pray. They signed oversized cards for the wounded.
The shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Illinois who had several minor run-ins with the law in recent years and belonged to a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.” Over social media he had lashed out at President Donald Trump and the GOP.
Capitol Police officers in Scalise’s security detail returned fire, and Hodgkinson later died from his injuries.
Some Republican lawmakers blamed the shooting on vitriolic political rhetoric, particularly rising from the left in the era of Trump.
Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., issued a call to “replace the hateful rhetoric and resistance with respect.”
Democrats cautioned against falling into partisanship or laying blame.
“Let us not jump immediately into blaming this one or that one,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.
Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit Thursday morning to Scalise, his former colleague when he served in the House. Pence tweeted shortly after leaving the MedStar Washington Hospital Center that he and his wife, Karen, had thanked doctors and hospital staff, and he sought prayers for Scalise and the others injured.
Trump and his wife, Melania, visited with Scalise late Wednesday.
Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader, was first elected in 2008. The popular and gregarious lawmaker is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative bats when he secured the job of House whip several years ago.
Zack Barth, an aide to Texas Rep. Roger Williams, was also shot but was treated and released from a hospital. The wounded Capitol Police officers were identified as David Bailey, who was treated for a minor injury, and Crystal Griner, who was shot in the ankle. Also wounded was former congressional aide Matt Mika, who now works for Tyson Foods in its Washington office. Mika’s family said the lobbyist was shot multiple times and was in critical condition following surgery.
The shooting occurred at a popular park and baseball complex in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice about 7 a.m. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity as they prepared for the congressional baseball match that pits Republicans against Democrats. The popular annual face-off, which raises money for charity, is scheduled to go forward as planned Thursday evening at the Nationals stadium across the Potomac from where the shooting took place.
Hodgkinson has been in the area since March, living out of his van, said local FBI Special Agent In Charge Tim Slater. Democratic former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said he had spoken often with the man on recent mornings at the nearby YMCA.
Hodgkinson’s apparent Facebook page included strong criticism of Republicans and the Trump administration. But Slater said authorities were still working to determine a motive and had “no indication” Hodgkinson knew about the ball practice ahead of time.
The GOP lawmakers’ team was taking batting practice when gunshots rang out and chaos erupted.
Scalise was fielding balls at second base when he was shot, according to lawmakers present. Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, said his colleague “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”
“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.
The gunman had a rifle and “a lot of ammo,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was at the practice.
Texas Rep. Mike Conaway described what sounded like an explosion, then lawmakers scattering off the field as police roamed in search of the gunman and engaged him.
“The guy’s down to a handgun, he dropped his rifle, they shoot him, I go over there, they put him in handcuffs,” Conaway said, adding that if the shooter had “gotten inside the fence, where a bunch of guys were holed up in the dugout, it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he had just left the practice and encountered the apparent gunman in the parking lot before the shooting. The man calmly asked which party’s lawmakers were practicing and Duncan told him they were the Republicans. The man thanked him.
The event raised questions about the security of members of Congress. While the top lawmakers, including Scalise, have security details, others do not and they regularly appear in public without protection. The last time a lawmaker was shot was when Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was hit in the head and grievously injured while meeting with constituents at a supermarket parking lot in 2011.
Following the Giffords shooting, lawmakers have held fewer open town halls and have been advised to increase security at such events.
Associated Press reporters Chad Day, Eric Tucker, Matt Barakat, Meghan Hoyer, Sarah Brumfield, Michael Biesecker, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ken Thomas, Vivian Salama, Stephen Ohlemacher, Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor in Washington and Alexandria, and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.