Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson recount congressman's ‘tragic’ shooting
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, was on third base at a baseball field in Washington, D.C. about 7 a.m. Wednesday in a final practice before today’s annual Congressional Baseball Game.
In the middle of practice, Huffman’s coach urgently called the players in from the field.
“I could see our coach (Rep.) Mike Doyle behind home plate. He got a text message that had him very upset,” Huffman said. “Within a couple seconds he urgently called us all in and read us a cryptic message about a shooting at the Republican practice.”
The shooting, Huffman would shortly discover, wounded Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a lobbyist and two U.S. Capitol Police officers at an Alexandria, Virginia ballpark about eight miles away.
“My heart sank. I worried about what may have happened to our colleagues,” said Huffman. “Our team moved into our dugout and huddled up in a prayer for them.”
Huffman and his team awaited further news in the dugout, contacting family. It took about 30 minutes before they learned no one had died.
“It was heart-rending,” Huffman said.
Several miles away in the capital at the House gym, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, was pedaling on a stationary bicycle when he saw Secret Service agents enter the room and escort Speaker Paul Ryan, who was in an exercise class, out of the room.
“One of my colleagues said, ‘Is everything OK?’ And (Ryan) said, ‘I don’t know yet,’” Thompson said.
Thompson soon learned the ordeal his Republican colleagues had endured on the baseball field and that House Majority Whip Scalise was critically wounded in gunfire.
Thompson called the shooter’s actions un-American.
“It’s a tragic reaction, it’s cowardly,” Thompson said of the shooter’s actions. “That’s not how we settle our differences in the United States of America.”
Preliminary reports suggest Republicans may have been targeted because of the shooter’s extreme political views. The assailant, James Hodgkinson, 66, of Illinois, was reported to be an ardent critic of President Donald Trump.
Thompson said hate and violence have no place in politics.
Sonoma State University politics professor David McCuan drew a distinction between partisanship as a dynamic feature of U.S. politics, and radicalization, which can lead to extreme views and violence.
“While the tenor and rancor of our politics have become much more divisive, no one would condone violence, no one would condone extremism to gain political accomplishment,” McCuan said. “Bullets are apolitical, they are not partisan.”
Thompson, a lifelong gun owner who for years has been pushing for stronger legislation to stem gun violence, joined his colleagues on the House floor where Ryan and others called for unity.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said.
Thompson then attended an annual event for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a nonprofit gun violence group formed by some of the families who lost loved ones in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut when a 22-year-old gunman killed 20 children and six adults.
Wednesday’s Virginia shooting — as well as another mass shooting Wednesday morning at a San Francisco UPS facility that killed four people, including the alleged shooter, added another layer of grief to the event’s cause and urgency to the mission.
“I don’t work on (gun violence) just when there’s another tragedy,” Thompson said. “It’s a daily thing. We’re trying to figure out solutions for gun violence and we’re going to keep up our effort to do just that.”
Wednesday morning in the dugout with Huffman and his team were two Capitol Police officers in civilian clothes who always attend practices. They kept Huffman’s team sheltered until additional law enforcement arrived. Huffman said he never felt in danger.
“I was just thinking about the crazy world we live in, where something as innocent and good as a baseball practice gets targeted by some crazy guy with a gun,” Huffman said.
“It’s just that we live in a world with far too much violence, and gun violence specifically.”
The baseball teams were having a final practice before today’s 80th Congressional Baseball Game — an annual fundraiser that builds camaraderie between the two parties and raises money for charity, Huffman said.
The game will be held as scheduled.