WASHINGTON — “We’ve got to stop the violence,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after a shooter whose social media showed he was apparently a fan of the former presidential candidate opened fire on Republicans practicing for Thursday’s congressional baseball game.
Police identified the shooter as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., who was taken to George Washington University hospital where he died. His Facebook page identifies him as former owner of a construction company and his wallpaper photo is of Sanders. He last shared a change.org petition on May 24 to stop a pipeline from Detroit through Ohio.
Capitol Police were present at the early morning practice in Alexandria, Va., only because a member of congressional leadership was participating: Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Scalise was shot in the hip and taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center in critical condition.
“Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone. He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues,” his office said in a statement. “We ask that you keep the Whip and others harmed in this incident in your thoughts and prayers.”
Rep. Roger Williams’ (R-Texas) aide Zachary Barth, Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika and two Capitol Police officers were wounded: David Bailey and Krystal Griner. Mika was reportedly in critical condition.
“Our prayers go out for a full recovery of Rep. Scalise, the congressional aides and police officers who were injured,” Sanders also said in a statement shortly after the news broke.
Later in the morning, Sanders spoke on the Senate floor.
“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values,” Sanders said.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who was at the practice, said the incident began shortly after 7 a.m. and lasted about 10 minutes. “The suspect was shooting at members and staff on the field,” Barton said. “Officers of the Capitol Police returned fire and ran towards the shooter, risking their lives while saving others.” The congressman’s 10-year-old son was at practice; Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said lawmakers hid the boy under a bench in the dugout.
“I heard a single gunshot. I heard a pop. … All of a sudden, there were multiple gunshots… coming from the third-base side,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who showed up to Capitol Hill still wearing his Republican uniform.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was at the practice and called the scene “basically a killing field.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) left practice early and said a man believed to be the shooter asked him what was going on. When Duncan said it was practice for the congressional baseball game, the shooter allegedly asked if the players were Republicans or Democrats.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who plays for the Dem baseball team, called it “a tough day on Capitol Hill, a tough day for America.” He said the Dems were practicing at a separate location this morning and went into lockdown after they received news of the GOP practice.
Jeffries told CNN that team leader Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) called all the players in to pitcher’s mound to reveal the news; he said Dem players first gathered in the dugout and “prayed for our friends, colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle.” Capitol Police ordered the Dems to shelter in place.
On the Hill, House members were briefed on the shooting, and were indicating that the game will go on as scheduled Thursday. At the White House, President Trump condemned the “very, very brutal assault” and lauded Scalise as “a very good friend, he’s a patriot and he’s a fighter.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told CNN that the investigation has “just started” and “we just don’t know at this point” if the congressmen were targeted. “We could have lost more citizens today,” he said. “…We have got to do a better job — obviously, this man should never have been in possession of a firearm. Ninety-three individuals a day are killed in America We’ve got to get serious about this issue.”
“We are all horrified by this dreadful attack,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on the floor after lawmakers gaveled into session. “We are united in our shock… an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” House members responded with a lengthy standing ovation, followed by another standing ovation for the bravery of the Capitol Police.
Ryan lauded the Dem baseball players’ prayerful response to the shooting and said lawmakers should “lift each other up.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) followed Ryan’s remarks: “Every time I pray, which is very frequently, I pray for all of you,” she said.