Scalise still heal­ing, but par­ti­san­ship mend­ing ends

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

It’s been a month since a lone gun­man’s at­tack on Repub­li­can law­mak­ers prac­tic­ing base­ball shocked the coun­try and drew at­ten­tion to Wash­ing­ton’s poi­sonous po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere, spurring prom­ises to turn down the par­ti­san rhetor­i­cal ther­mo­stat. Those prom­ises have quickly faded. In­stead, those on both sides of the aisle are back at it, in­sult­ing each other, ques­tion­ing their mo­tives and in­tel­li­gence — and in the case of one Demo­crat, even sug­gest­ing that Pres­i­dent Trump could be guilty of trea­son, a crime pun­ish­able by ex­e­cu­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, one of the hall­marks of hu­man­ity has been our very short mem­ory when it comes to con­sid­er­ing the great lessons of life,” said Rep. Trent Franks, Ari­zona Repub­li­can. “I don’t know what the an­swer to that is, but yes, it seems like ev­ery day that passes, the re­al­ity of what oc­curred seems to dim just a lit­tle in our mem­o­ries.”

Things seemed very dif­fer­ent the morn­ing of June 14, when gun­man James Hodgkin­son found the field in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, where Repub­li­can law­mak­ers were prac­tic­ing for the next night’s Con­gres­sional Base­ball Game, and opened fire.

He stalked law­mak­ers and staff alike, crit­i­cally wound­ing House Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scalise and four oth­ers. Only a locked fence and the pres­ence of Capi­tol Po­lice of­fi­cers, who were there as part of Mr. Scalise’s se­cu­rity team, pre­vented what law­mak­ers said would have been a mas­sacre of per­haps 20 mem­bers of Congress and as­sorted staffers.

The gun­man had a long his­tory of on­line ve­he­mence against Repub­li­cans, and in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing a stunned Sen. Bernard San­ders, Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent and hero to Demo­cratic ac­tivists from his pres­i­den­tial run last year, ac­knowl­edged that Hodgkin­son had been a cam­paign vol­un­teer.

Mr. Scalise re­mained in the hospi­tal Thurs­day in “fair” con­di­tion, after un­der­go­ing yet an­other surgery. Doc­tors said the lat­est round was to treat an in­fec­tion re­sult­ing from his wound.

His hos­pi­tal­iza­tion has al­ready lasted longer than the hoped-for era of toned­down rhetoric, and mem­bers of Congress said that while every­one’s thoughts are still with Mr. Scalise, per­haps it was too much to ex­pect a last­ing, fun­da­men­tal shift in po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

Rep. Tom Reed, New York Repub­li­can and a co-chair­man of the bi­par­ti­san Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus, said he had hoped the scare would spark a “per­ma­nent thaw” in the over­heated po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and did say that the shock could im­prove mem­berto-mem­ber re­la­tions in the long term.

“But over­all, the po­lit­i­cal rhetoric is, I think, thaw­ing back to ‘It’s us-ver­sus-them’ tribal pol­i­tics,” said Mr. Reed. “And that’s not good for the coun­try, but it’s just [an] hon­est as­sess­ment of where we are.”

Both sides have fallen short of a new ci­vil­ity, with the par­ti­san clash over health care only deep­en­ing di­vi­sions.

Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren, Massachusetts Demo­crat, has called the Repub­li­cans’ pro­posed Oba­macare cuts “blood money” and pre­dicted “peo­ple will die” as a re­sult.

Mr. Trump shot back in a Fox News in­ter­view that Ms. War­ren is a “hope­less case” and is “just some­body who has got a lot of ha­tred, a lot of anger.”

“I call her Poc­a­hon­tas, and that’s an in­sult to Poc­a­hon­tas,” said Mr. Trump, re­fer­ring to Ms. War­ren’s ques­tion­able claims of Amer­i­can In­dian her­itage.

Mr. San­ders said on MSNBC that Mr. Trump needs to “be ex­posed for the fraud that he is.”

Trump on Twit­ter

Mr. Trump has con­tin­ued to use his Twit­ter ac­count to go after his crit­ics, es­pe­cially un­friendly me­dia out­lets. One stark video on his Twit­ter feed showed him pum­mel­ing a fig­ure whose head was re­placed with the “CNN” logo.

Asked how in­cum­bent on the pres­i­dent it is to set an ex­am­ple, Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, said Mr. Trump is be­yond re­demp­tion in that re­gard.

“Don­ald Trump shows no re­spect for any­thing or any­one but him­self, and it’s poi­son­ing our” polity, he said.

Mr. Con­nolly said he did think there was some somber re­flec­tion among his col­leagues on Capi­tol Hill, though.

“How last­ing all that will be, I don’t know. Our pol­i­tics don’t re­ward that,” said Mr. Con­nolly, whose North­ern Vir­ginia district starts mere miles from where the shoot­ing took place.

Mr. Franks said a lot of peo­ple made some ef­fort to re­flect on the events but added that it will take a lot to over­come the tremen­dous po­lar­iza­tion in the coun­try.

“I be­lieve the only ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion is for us to go back to our roots as Amer­i­cans and rally around a set of ideals, rather than just make empty chants for unity that don’t have any sub­stance to them,” he said.

Other mem­bers said they think the ini­tial sen­ti­ment on ton­ing down the rhetoric is still present, though they ac­knowl­edged that they are not pos­i­tive on how wide­spread it is.

“You know, I haven’t been mon­i­tor­ing over­all what the rhetoric level has been,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, a mem­ber of the Repub­li­can base­ball team. “My sense within Congress is that it helped sort of re­store the need for more civil dis­cus­sion and look­ing for bi­par­ti­san work where we can.

“It still is in the back of a lot of law­mak­ers’ minds, es­pe­cially as Mr. Scalise con­tin­ues his re­cov­ery,” Mr. Brady said.

For many, the shoot­ing called to mind the Jan­uary 2011 at­tack on Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords, an Ari­zona Demo­crat who was crit­i­cally wounded by a de­ranged gun­man at a con­stituent event. Six oth­ers were killed in that shoot­ing, and Ms. Gif­fords ul­ti­mately re­signed as she strug­gled to re­cover from her wounds.

“When Gabby came to the floor and ten­dered her res­ig­na­tion, it’s one of the most pow­er­ful mem­o­ries I have as a mem­ber of Congress, and the re­spect I had for her and for my col­leagues on the other side of the aisle was so­lid­i­fied that day go­ing for­ward,” said Mr. Reed. He said other mem­bers might have ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing sim­i­lar in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing last month.

But Mr. Con­nolly pointed out that even right after the Alexan­dria shoot­ing, mem­bers were al­ready re­treat­ing to their par­ti­san cor­ners. He said that was ev­i­dent in the gun de­bate, where Democrats called for re­stric­tions on the sale of firearms while some Repub­li­cans said the so­lu­tion was mak­ing it eas­ier to carry weapons in the District of Columbia.


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