Shaken US lawmakers soften partisan tone

Republican Representative Roger Williams being wheeled away by emergency medical service personnel from the stadium park on Wednesday.
Republican Representative Roger Williams being wheeled away by emergency medical service personnel from the stadium park on Wednesday.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Politicians stand united as they pledge to review security after Wednesday's shooting

WASHINGTON • Congressman Chuck Fleischmann stood just outside the House chamber in the United States Capitol recounting his harrowing survival of a shooting rampage aimed at a group of lawmakers practising for an annual charity baseball game. He was still wearing his cleats and red jersey with "Republicans" emblazoned across the front.

But for once, such party labels were not the defining trait.

Badly shaken members of Congress - both Democratic and Republican - were united in concern for those wounded and in shock at the events on Wednesday as they assessed where the nation's increasingly harsh political climate had led them: an early-morning playing field sprayed with gunshots that could have killed dozens of their colleagues, aides, security personnel and volunteers.

"I never thought anything like that could happen on a ball field," said Mr Fleischmann, the Representative for Tennessee's third congressional district.

He conceded he was still rattled after diving into a dugout to huddle with colleagues to flee what appears to be a politically motivated assault.

A rifle-wielding critic of US President Donald Trump opened fire on the lawmakers, seriously wounding a top Republican congressman and three others before he was killed by police.

Mr Steve Scalise - the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives and a strong supporter of gun rights - underwent surgery after being shot in the left hip.

UNTHINKABLE

I never thought anything like that could happen on a ball field.

CONGRESSMAN CHUCK FLEISCHMANN, Republican from Tenneessee.


CAN'T GIVE IN

We cannot let that be a victory for the assailant or anyone who would think that way.

MRS NANCY PELOSI, Democratic leader in the House.

e needed several blood transfusions, remains in critical condition and will require more operations, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said.

The others shot and wounded were a congressional aide, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods and a US Capitol Police officer. A second police officer suffered non-gunshot injuries. Two congressman sustained minor injuries while trying to take cover.

The sense that national political conflict had escalated out of control was underscored by the fact that the gunman took out his political rage on preparations for a rare congressional event that actually brings lawmakers together.

Though the annual congressional baseball game pits Republicans against Democrats, it is more a moment for bipartisan camaraderie.

But such gatherings cannot mask the acrid partisan atmosphere in Congress as well as back home, where lawmakers say they are increasingly worried about hostile audiences and constituents.

"You get a lot of angry people," said Representive Ryan Costello. "That doesn't mean they are bad people... It is the one person out of 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 who once they know your whereabouts and when you are going to be there and who you are going to be with who can plan something like this."

The security of lawmakers has been a continuing concern since the grave wounding of Ms Gabrielle Giffords, then a Democratic representative from Arizona, and the killing of six others at a horrific event in Tucson in 2011.

Congressional leaders promised to explore ways to increase protection but were also adamant they could not let risks to their safety drive them away from the public contact key to doing their jobs properly.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, said: "We cannot let that be a victory for the assailant or anyone who would think that way," she said.

Calls for civility and less-charged language were widespread, a recognition that both parties have been too eager to fan the political flames.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Shaken US lawmakers soften partisan tone'. Print Edition | Subscribe