Ben Moffat and Nathan J. Fish

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Congress hits pause as members, staff grapple with shooting

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill were grappling Wednesday with what one member called the “horrifying and concerning” shooting spree in a Washington suburb that left five people injured, including staffers, police officers and a House member.

“This is a very rough day. This is just absolutely horrible,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, of the attack on a group of Republican lawmakers as they were practicing early Wednesday for a charity baseball game.

“These are my friends who were out there playing,” Sinema said.

Authorities identified the shooter as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois. Authorities said Hodgkinson died of injuries he received in an exchange of gunfire with officers at the scene.

Among the wounded were two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of a security detail for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who was in critical condition with gunshot wounds from the attack.

Authorities would not discuss a possible motive Wednesday. But media reports said Hodgkinson had made social media posts blasting President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and was a member of a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.”

Tighter security was evident around the Capitol, with police carrying long rifles and shotguns patrolling the steps and the area around the congressional office buildings. Normally short lines to get through metal detectors in the complex instead snaked through congressional hallways.

But members also projected a message of unity in the face of the attack.

“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said to a standing ovation in the chamber.

The House canceled all votes and many other events, including committee hearings and news conferences, but reconvened around noon to show support for the shooting victims.

In remarks that drew multiple standing ovations, Ryan praised the bipartisan response to the shooting. He said he had been struck by a photo of congressional Democrats huddled in prayer at their practice for the Thursday’s charity baseball game where they are scheduled to square off against GOP players.

-Arizona lawmakers reflect on the shooting: Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona; Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix; Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona; and Gov. Doug Ducey

“We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber,” Ryan told members. “For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire.”

Many in the Capitol expressed the same sentiment.

“It’s always sad to see your fellow people that you work with day-in and day-out injured in this way, and thank God that the professionalism of the two police officers that were involved,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona.

“Sadly they were wounded, but they did their job and we’re very proud of them,” he said.

Praise for the police was common Wednesday.

“They were shot because they ran out into the fire and shot the shooter, and that was just incredible bravery and they saved the lives of everyone who was there today,” Sinema said.

“Our Capitol Police are, just every day, putting their lives on the line to keep us all safe and thank goodness they were there today,” she said.

Business at the Capitol had largely returned to normal by Wednesday afternoon, and organizers of the charity baseball game, a summer tradition in Washington, announced that the game would go on as planned Thursday.

But there were still lingering tense moments: Wednesday afternoon, Capitol Police cleared what they called a “suspicious package” at First Street and Maryland Avenue NE, a block from the Capitol.

While O’Halleran said security could tighten for a while, there will still be work to be done after things return to normal.

“This gets down to, you know, how do we handle discourse in our society, and the violent way of dealing with this is not the appropriate way,” O’Halleran said. “Whether it’s this shooting or other shootings or terrorism, it’s all about how we work with one another in society and are able to address problems without having violence.”

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