Often divided, Congress acts as team
Annual baseball game takes on greater meaning after shooting
Republicans and Democrats took the field for their annual charity baseball game at Nationals Park on Thursday, continuing a treasured tradition of setting aside political divisions for a few hours of spirited competition a day after a shooting rampage left a wounded colleague fighting for survival.
The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity took on a serious meaning this year as organizers and attendees said it was a chance to show the nation that more unites Americans of both parties than divides them and that the event could not be shut down by a gunman.
“I have some friends who are interns who were talking about going, and after the shooting, I mean, I have to go,” said Emily Cleveland of Danville, Ill., as she entered the stadium. “I think it’s a big statement that they’re still having it. I think it’s saying a lot because it’s America’s pastime. It’s a really American thing to do, to just go ahead anyway.”
A gunman fired on the Republican team’s practice on a suburban Virginia field Wednesday, critically wounding Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and injuring three other people as horrified
legislators and staffers scrambled for cover amid a barrage of bullets.
Scalise, the third most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, was shot through the hip and listed in critical condition at Medstar Washington Hospital Center on Thursday after undergoing a third surgery.
“He’s in some trouble,” President Trump said during a jobs event at the White House. He called Scalise a “great fighter.”
Lawmakers donned Louisiana State University ball caps in Scalise’s honor.
Capitol Police, who provided security for the practice, killed the shooter, identified by authorities as James Hodgkinson, 66, from Belleville, Ill.
Before Thursday’s game, Democratic and Republican players knelt together near second base, where Scalise would have played. The crowd chanted, “USA! USA!”
The crowd applauded Capitol Police officer David Bailey — who was injured in the battle with the shooter — as he hobbled to the mound on crutches and tossed the ceremonial first pitch.
Trump delivered a videotaped statement, saying the game is evidence that “we will not be intimidated ... the game will go on.”
“Last year, we set records with $500,000 raised for charity and 10,000 fans, and already we’ve topped $1 million in donations and sold more than 20,000 tickets” before game time, said Sean Brown, a volunteer with the Congressional Sports Foundation, which organizes the event. That total was all pregame online sales, and almost half of it came since Wednesday, Brown said.
“We’re in town because we’re tourists, and I mean I heard about the shooting, and I was like, ‘Wow, it would be cool to come today to show support for the congressmen,’ ” said Otis Amick of Phoenix. “I think a good turnout today would be a good statement against what happened yesterday.”
Steve Pastorkovich came to the congressional baseball game — his first — because he wanted to show solidarity and make a case for respectful disagreement.
“A lot of people in Washington want to make things better,” said the former Republican National Committee staffer, who works for a telecom trade association in Arlington. “You may disagree about your goals, but we’re better than that. We make our arguments and put it to the people, and that’s the way it goes.”
In a joint interview with CNN, House Speaker Paul Ryan, RWis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the game was a symbol of unity for a divided Congress. “Tonight, we are all Team Scalise,” Pelosi said.
Ryan said he hoped the bipartisan showing would set an example and help tone down the country’s polarizing rhetoric.
The congressional game has been a tradition for more than a century. The first game was organized by Rep. John Tener, R-Pa., in 1909 when the Democrats prevailed, 26-16.
The game has been held almost every year since, interrupted by major events such as the Great Depression and World War II. Democrats and Republicans each have won 39 times and tied once.
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, the Democrats’ star pitcher, said he and Scalise are close friends and work together on many issues, but there’s an intense rivalry on the baseball field.
“We will miss Steve on the field,” Richmond said.
Despite all the talk about bipartisanship after the shooting, Richmond said the game will be very partisan. “We will go at it,” he said. “I know Steve wouldn’t have it no other way.”
The charities that will benefit include the Washington Literacy Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.
“We will go at it. I know Steve (Scalise) wouldn’t have it no other way.” Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, Democratic pitcher
Republican and Democratic members of Congress planned to compete fiercely but in a spirit of togetherness Thursday.