WASHINGTON — Perhaps the shock of a gunman opening fire with a rifle early Wednesday at GOP lawmakers practicing for their annual charity baseball game will change the toxic atmosphere on Capitol Hill.
Perhaps it will cause President Donald Trump to act more like he did on Wednesday, when he addressed the nation afterward from the White House — consoling the country after the first big domestic shooting on his watch.
But this will be much harder because the now-dead shooter, James Hodgkinson, 66, a home inspector from outside Belleville, Illinois, explicitly targeted Republicans, volunteered for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and had his Facebook page filled with anti-Trump rhetoric.
Trump praised the heroism of the Capitol Police in remarks that struck the right tone, ignoring the obvious political motivations of the shooter trying to massacre GOP lawmakers.
For the good of the country, Trump did not take the obvious bait, refraining from making a bad situation worse via a Twitter post or in an aside from the text he read from.
“We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.
I was in the House chamber when Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., addressed the lawmakers hurriedly called together. They were shaken after the shootings of House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and four others at a ball field in a park in a bucolic area of Alexandria, Virginia, not far from the Capitol.
I can’t recall when I’ve seen the members — and a great many of them were in the chamber — collectively so quiet, so serious. I don’t know if it was because they were prayerful for Scalise and the others, or silently grateful that for the grace of God, they were not the victims.
It doesn’t matter to me. Clearly, something about this day was sinking in, and Ryan and Pelosi captured the moment.
“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Ryan said.
“These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire. These were our brothers and sisters who ran into danger and saved countless lives. So before this House returns to its business, let’s just slow down and reflect, to think about how we’re all being tested right now. Because we are being tested right now,” he said.
An attack on one was an attack on all, Ryan and Pelosi emphasized.
Pelosi said, “It is about family. “We are called for a purpose to this body. It’s a great thing. And we know what it means to serve, and we recognize that in others. And we also recognize that you have your constituents, we have ours, and we respect you and your constituents who sent you here. All worthy of respect.”
Republicans were at practice to face off with the Democrats at the Congressional Baseball Game.
The annual game started in 1909, with House and Senate members playing for their respective parties, and will take place as scheduled Thursday night at Nationals Park, as well it should.
Female lawmakers play female reporters in their annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game on June 21 to benefit a breast cancer organization, the Young Survival Coalition.
For years, I’ve played on the reporter team, though next week I’ll be on the bench because of a bad knee and travel causing too many missed practices.
What I observe from watching lawmakers in these baseball games is this: Besides raising money for charity, these are notable for fostering bipartisanship and providing a respite from the highly polarized politics of Capitol Hill.
Even with the trash talk.
The game itself — and, more important, in the months of practices leading to the first inning — provides oases of civility and bipartisanship, even in these most bitter, horrible of political times on Capitol Hill.
Will this tragedy be a pivot to produce a government that gets things done, even with the reality that there will partisan winners and losers? Based on my years here, I lean more toward no than yes.
The anti-Trump ravings of Hodgkinson will be, indeed, as Ryan said, a test. A test of social media, Trump, congressional leaders, conspiracy theorists, cable news outlets — and the rest of us.