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Rifle-wielding attacker wounds GOP leader, killed by police

Updated: 
June 15, 2017 - 12:05am

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A rifle-wielding attacker opened fire on Republican lawmakers as they practiced for a charity baseball game Wednesday, critically wounding House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and hitting aides and Capitol police as congressmen and others dove for cover. The assailant, who had nursed grievances against President Donald Trump and the GOP, fought a gun battle with police before he, too, was shot and later died.

Colleagues said Scalise had been fielding balls at second base at a local park in Alexandria, just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, as the Republicans practiced for their annual game with Democrats. He dragged himself away from the infield leaving a trail of blood before fellow lawmakers could rush to his assistance. He was listed in critical condition Wednesday night at a Washington hospital, which said he will require several more operations.

The shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Illinois who had several minor run-ins with the law in recent years and belonged to a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.” He had been living out of his van in the Alexandria area in recent months, the FBI said.

Capitol Police officers who were in Scalise’s security detail wounded the shooter. He later died of his injuries, Trump told the nation from the White House.

“Everyone on that field is a public servant,” Trump said, his tone somber, America’s acrimonious politics set aside for the moment. “Their sacrifice makes democracy possible.”

Lawmakers noted their good fortune in having armed protectors on hand — “Thank God,” they exclaimed over and over — and said otherwise the shooter would have been able to take a huge deadly toll.

The events left the capital horrified and stunned, and prompted immediate reflection on the current hostility and vitriol in American politics. Lawmakers called for a new dialogue on lowering the partisan temperature, and Trump urged Americans to come together as he assumed the role of national unifier for one of the first times in his presidency.

Trump later visited the hospital where Scalise was recovering. The president then tweeted: “Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape - but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!”

Proceedings were canceled for the day in the House, and instead Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California issued their own calls for unity. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said, to prolonged applause.

Shortly after the shooting, Bernie Sanders, the former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said on the Senate floor that the shooter apparently was a volunteer for his campaign last year. Sanders said he denounced the violence “in the strongest possible terms.”

Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader, was first elected in 2008. The popular and gregarious lawmaker is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative bats when he secured the job of House whip several years ago.

Texas Rep. Roger Williams said that one of his aides, Zack Barth, was shot but was doing well and expected to fully recover. Two Capitol Police officers sustained relatively minor injuries. A former congressional aide was hospitalized.

The shooting occurred at a popular park and baseball complex where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice about 7 a.m. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity as they prepared for the annual congressional baseball match that pits Republicans against Democrats. The popular annual face-off, which raises money for charity, is scheduled for Thursday evening at Nationals Park across the Potomac River in Washington, and will go forward as planned.

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