Politics & Government

Republican leader in critical condition after shooter attacks GOP baseball practice

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in House leadership, was in critical condition late Wednesday night after a gunman targeted GOP lawmakers and aides in a chaotic attack at a baseball field that stoked fear among lawmakers about their safety in an increasingly charged political environment.

According to the hospital treating Scalise, the bullet traveled across the lawmaker’s pelvis, fracturing bones and injuring internal organs. After immediate surgery, bleeding remains severe and Scalise will need additional operations.

Two Capitol Hill police officers, a congressional aide and a Republican lobbyist also were shot and injured in a melee during a practice session for the Republican baseball team ahead of an annual bipartisan charity game, scheduled for Thursday.

The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, died in the hospital. He was from Belleville, Illinois, and the local news organization, the Belleville News-Democrat, reported that he belonged to number of anti-Republican groups, including one called “Terminate the Republican Party.” He also was a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer at one point, prompting the former presidential candidate to go to the Senate floor and state that he was “sickened by this despicable act.”

The shooting and its aftermath produced a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, with Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi taking the House floor to deliver messages of national solidarity. Ryan said “we are united in our shock, united in our anguish,” and Pelosi added that “we are not one Caucus or the other in this House today.”

Some refused to play by the script, with House Speaker Newt Gingrich telling Fox News that the shooting reflected “an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.” By contrast, President Trump delivered a television address that did not point fingers and instead offered a tribute to Scalice and others injured.

The FBI said the shooter’s motivations were still being investigated, but Hodgkinson’s social media posts and letters he wrote to the Belleville News-Democrat suggest he may have deliberately targeted GOP congressmen.

Reps. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and Ron DeSantis of Florida were leaving the baseball practice early Wednesday when a man approached and asked them an unusual question.

“He asked me if this team was the Republican or Democrat team practicing,” said Duncan, who was unaware of what was about to unfold. “I responded that it was the Republican team practicing.”

Several Republican members of Congress, their staff and some family were at the baseball practice at a field in Alexandria, Va., when the gunman opened fire at roughly 7 a.m., according to U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, who was there but escaped injury. Capitol police and Alexandria police exchanged gunfire with Hodgkinson before disarming him and taking him into custody.

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The shooter was treated at a hospital before dying of his injuries.

On Wednesday evening, the president and first lady went to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, accompanied by Trump’s personal physician, and met with Scalise’s doctors. The Trumps talked with Scalise’s wife, Jennifer, and sat by the lawmaker’s bedside.

The Trumps also talked with Capitol police officers at the hospital.

Lawmakers who were at the ball field during the attack described a chaotic scene, with the injured Scalise crawling for safety after being struck by a single bullet. “I saw him lying in the outfield, as everybody else was taking cover,” said Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, who was there. Davis added, “I never thought I’d go to baseball practice and get shot at.”

Along with Scalise, Davis, DeSantis and Duncan, the GOP lawmakers practicing baseball Wednesday at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria included Reps. Mo Brooks and Gary Palmer of Alabama, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Reps. Joe Barton and Mike Conaway of Texas, Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, Barry Loudermilk of Georgia and Reps. Patrick Meehan and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania.

Conaway said that he and his colleagues were lucky that Scalise and his security detail were there. They accompany Scalise because he’s part of the GOP House leadership team.

“Had they not been there it could have been a lot worse, dramatically worse,” said Conaway. “Had the gunman got inside the fence, where our team was, and a bunch of guys holed up in the dugout, it would have been shooting fish in a barrel. But our Capitol Hill policemen did very very well.”

Speaking on the House floor, Speaker Ryan said that he had talked Wednesday to both of the injured officers, Krystal Griner and David Bailey. “One was being treated and one was about to go into surgery. I expressed our profound gratitude to them,” he said.

Based on witness accounts, the shooter was carrying a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle, but the exact makes of the weapons could not be immediately confirmed. Dozens of rounds were fired, prompting those at the baseball practice to flee for cover.

GOP ball players practice nearly every summer morning while Congress is session, dressed in red jerseys. When the first shots rang out, some on the field didn’t initially recognize what was happening. But as multiple rounds were fired, Brooks said he ran to the first base dugout with others and they all “dove in.”

While in the dugout, Brooks said he saw a staffer with a bullet hole in his leg. “I take off my belt, another gentleman and myself applies the belt as a tourniquet to his leg. In fairness, that staffer – he was gutsy. He said it wasn’t bad at all. But there was a hole in his leg.”

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Zachary Barth, an aide to Rep. Williams, was hit with gunfire along with Scalise, the two officers and Matt Mika, a former staffer and current lobbyist for Tyson Foods. Mika’s family told reporters Wednesday afternoon he was in critical condition.

Also at the practice was Rep. Joe Barton’s 10-year-old son, but “we got him into the dugout and stuffed him under the bench,” Flake told reporters.

Scalise, 51, represents Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District and is the Majority Whip, making him third in House leadership behind Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He was elected to Congress in 2008 after previously serving in the Louisiana State Senate and state House of Representatives.

He is the first member of Congress to be shot since Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded by a gunman while meeting constituents in her Arizona district in January 2011.

Giffords went to Twitter Wednesday: “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police - public servants and heroes today and every day.”

Trump delivered a television address shortly before noon, in which he offered his prayers to Scalise, his family, police officers and others injured Wednesday. He called Scalise “a patriot and a fighter.”

According to public records, Hodgkinson, 66, was a licensed home inspector in Illinois before his license lapsed in November. Property records show Hodgkinson owned a small home on a large piece of land on Rolling Hills Lane in Belleville.

Aaron Meurer, a neighbor, expressed surprise on Wednesday that Hodgkinson was identified as the shooter.

“I knew he was a Democrat, a pretty hardcore one. I know he wasn’t happy when Trump got elected, but he seemed like a nice enough guy,” recalled Meurer.

Reached by phone, Belleville Realtor Charlene Brennan told McClatchy she hired Hodgkinson from time to time for home inspections.

“From a business standpoint, he did not seem like he is a radical — opinionated but not a radical,” Brennan said. “He wasn’t obnoxious, he wasn’t problematic. When he did home inspections for me he didn’t rile up the buyers or make ridiculous statements.”

The shooting occurred a day before the congressional baseball game, a tradition since 1909, that is played in Nationals Park, one of the capital’s big bipartisan events. Legislators and staff members have been practicing for the charity game, which will go on as scheduled. The game normally draws 10,000 to 15,000 people.

Trump will not attend due to security and logistical concerns, according to a White House official.

Jay Roberts, who lives two miles south of Alexandria, said he was walking near the scene Wednesday when he heard the sirens. He described the neighborhood as “like a small slice of small town America” and said he was shocked by the incident.

Kristina Scrimshaw, a longtime bartender at the Pork Barrel BBQ in Alexandria, instantly recognized Hodgkinson as word spread of the tragedy.

“It was very disturbing, the pit of my stomach kind of hurt and I got chills,” she said, describing her reaction after a co-worker texted her. She said Hodgkinson often came in during the late afternoon and sat alone in silence.

“He’d kind of be sitting there with a strange smile on his face, not a happy smile, kind of creepy. It’s not something you can put your finger on.”

McClatchy’s Kate Irby, Greg Hadley, Anita Kumar, Alex Roarty, Lesley Clark, Alex Dougherty, William Douglas, Anshu Siripurapu, Katie Glueck, Hayley Harding, Greg Lynch, Tim Johnson, Lindsay Wise and David Lightman contributed to this report.

Stuart Leavenworth: 202-383-6070, @sleavenworth