WASHINGTON — Some members of Congress are asking for more security after a gunman wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and four others at the congressional Republican baseball team’s practice in Virginia on Wednesday morning.
Capitol Police and House officials briefed hundreds of D.C. lawmakers Wednesday morning. After a somber prayer for the victims and their families, several raised concerns that they feel increasingly vulnerable to violence as the political debate in the country becomes more heated by the day.
“A lot of members were asking for changes,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., after the meeting. “They want the ability to use campaign dollars to pay for security at their homes, increasing our budgets so we can be in secure locations because we can’t always rent places with good security. And people were also talking about death threats we are getting. Everyone is getting death threats right now.”
Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House, had two U.S. Capitol Police officers with him at the baseball field because he is a member of House leadership. At least one other law enforcement officer was in the parking lot standing guard, as well. Most members of Congress are not given a security detail. Law enforcement killed the gunman, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill.
“If they had not been there, the whole team could have been wiped out,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Yahoo News of the Capitol Police. “It shows really how vulnerable everybody is.”
King said he thinks it’s not feasible for each member of Congress to have a security detail, but that there should be “more security” for larger gatherings of congress members.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., who was at the baseball game, said Congress should look into letting its lawmakers carry guns in Washington, according to a CNN reporter.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., told Yahoo News that he often receives death threats and his district office has been vandalized while staffers were inside. “In light of recent shootings and the political climate, I think there should be some ideas to beef up security not only in our homes and our communities and also while we’re here in D.C.,” Ruiz said.
Lamwakers who face their constituents at town halls during August recess may ask for a beefed up presence from local law enforcement.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who was on the field when the attack started, said if Capitol Police had not been there, the gunman “would have been shooting fish in the barrel.” Most team members, including Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., were in the dugout when the attack began. If the gunman had gotten inside the fence, Conaway said, the attacker could have shot them all.
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Authorities have not said whether the shooter was targeting the congressmen for political reasons. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on the Senate floor Wednesday that Hodgkinson apparently had volunteered during his presidential campaign in Virginia. (Sanders is among the many lawmakers who strongly condemned the attack.) Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., told reporters a man matching Hodgkinson’s description asked him whether the baseball players were Republicans or Democrats shortly before the shooting. Duncan, who was leaving practice early, told him they were Republicans.
“I’m shaken up,” Duncan said. “My colleagues were targeted today by someone who wanted to kill them.”
The mood at the capitol Wednesday morning was grim, with members sharing stories about death threats they’ve received in the hallways and asking each other if they were all right. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, was walking in the hallways still wearing his red baseball jersey with the word “Republicans” on the back. Barton was at the game with two sons; his 10-year-old, Jack, hid underneath an SUV to escape the gunfire.
“The world changed a bit for us as members, and I encourage everyone across America to pray for the nation and their elected officials in Congress,” Duncan told reporters.
The attack targeted one of the last bipartisan events in an increasingly divided Washington — the annual congressional baseball game, which raises funds for charity. The game will go on as scheduled Thursday. House members gave a standing ovation when it was announced that the game was still on, said Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
“You can’t let one idiot stop what’s a good thing, in my opinion,” Barton said of the baseball game.
The shooting has also prompted bipartisan reflection on the hill about the tone of the political debate in Washington.
“The viciousness has gotten a whole lot worse the last few months, I feel it,” said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif. “On numerous occasions I’ve been threatened, my safety has been threatened.”
Correa joined a bipartisan prayer in the Republican conference meeting room in the basement of the Capitol Wednesday morning to pray for the victims and their families.
“We’re all very passionate people, we’re all very opinionated people, but we should all have respect for each other and for our motives, which is service to our districts and to our country,” said Jodey Arrington, R-Texas.
“An attack of one of us is an attack on all of us,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on the House floor to the relatively rare sound of Democrats and Republicans clapping in unison.
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Photos: Shooting at GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.