WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) — Much of the country was watching Thursday night as members of Congress played in a charity baseball game – a day after a congressman and three others were shot during a Republican congressional practice for the match.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) and a lobbyist remained in critical condition late Thursday after being wounded in the shooting.
But despite the injuries and frightening moments on the Alexandria, Virginia field, the annual game went go on as scheduled at Washington Nationals Park.
The first pitch was thrown out by Capitol Police Officer David Bailey, who was injured while confronting the gunman.
“If we don’t play this baseball game, and we go home, then they win,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who was hurt his ankle diving for cover through a hail of bullets and will be front and center at the game tonight. “If you’re not sure which one I’ll be, I’ll be the one coaching third on crutches.”
There was an obvious show of bipartisanship and unity inside Nationals Park, as Democrats and Republicans came together as one team in the wake of the apparently politically-motivated shooting.
And the turnout was tremendous.
There was an emotional ovation after the National Anthem inside the ballpark as the game got under way.
President Donald Trump had expressed interest in attending the game, but the White House said there’s not enough time to set up all the Secret Service protocols. But Trump did address the crowd by video.
“By playing tonight, you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats acts of violence or assaults on our democracy,” Trump said.
Carl Ships and his daughter were so moved by the shooting that they came to the game with homemade signs reading, “No more violence.”
“Two nights ago, we weren’t going to come. We didn’t even know it existed,” said Ships, of Carrollton, Maryland, “and then this awful thing happened.”
The Democrats’ team won 11-2, and the game ended with a heartfelt handshake.
As fans filed out of the ballpark, they were all talking about the show of political unity.
“I think especially after what happened, it was a great opportunity for everybody to come together,” said Jackie Norris of Washington, D.C.
The one silver lining was that the shooting incident dramatically increased ticket sales. So far, they have already raised more than $1 million for local charities – double what they made last year.
Outside, extra security was in place – including bomb-sniffing dogs. Vendors had their boxes of hats, shirts, and even water check by Capitol Police and the D.C. Bomb Squad.
Every fan had to go through metal detectors and have their bags searched on the way in, because no one wanted a repeat of what happened Wednesday morning.
Republican members of Congress were practicing for that game Wednesday when a man identified as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Southern Illinois opened fire with an assault rifle.
The alleged gunman was shot and killed by officers but not before wounding four people.
Scalise was left in critical condition following the shooting after undergoing three surgeries.
At the game, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was wearing a Brooklyn Cyclones jersey and a Capitol Police hat, in honor of the brave officers who were wounded during the shootout. But he said both teams would also tip their caps for their injured colleague.
“At some point during the game, we’ll actually put on LSU hats in honor of our friend and colleague Steve Scalise, who represents the great state of Louisiana and is LSU through and through,” Jeffries said. “He can’t be here today but he is here in spirit through our hats.”
Trump said Thursday that the congressman’s condition is more difficult than people first realized.
Trump said Scalise “continues his very brave fight,” but add “it’s been much more difficult than people even thought at the time. He’s in some trouble.”
Trump is also crediting the congressman for bringing people together.
“Steve in his own way may have brought some unity to our long divided country, we’ve had a very, very divided country for many years and I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice but there could be some unity being brought to our country,” Trump said.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who was on his way to practice with doughnuts and bagels before getting a call from his wife about the shooting, said while there were certainly more hugs and kisses on the house floor Thursday, there’s always been respect.
“I think there is more camaraderie here than meets the eye. I have a number of friends on the other side of the aisle, we don’t agree on anything, we’re here to do a job. The building on the left is there to solve differences, bright ideas to advance the cause of the American people,” he said.
Outside the Capitol earlier Thursday, security was very evident. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the incident is a wake-up call to tone down the divisive politics plaguing the country.
“Both sides should lower the rhetoric,” King said. “Look, I love a great political fight and hard fighting, but the level it’s reached, we were talking about beheadings; talking about demonstrations turning into violence. That’s not part of the American scene.”
Most members of Congress have no protective detail once they leave capitol grounds. In upstate New York, Republican Claudia Tenney received a disturbing email that read “One down, 216 to go.” A shaken Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee, said the privilege to serve is still worth the risk.
“We represent great people every day in this country. on both sides of the aisle,” Fleischmann said.
Also Thursday, congressional staffer Zack Barth shared his harrowing tale on CBS This Morning.
“I saw him train his gun at me, everything around me started to pop. I got hit in the leg and decided if I wanted to live I needed to make a run for it,” Barth said.
Investigators on Thursday were still working to determine a motive for the shooting and are looking closely at posts Hodgkinson made online in recent months. In March, he wrote on Facebook: “Trump is a traitor and he has destroyed our democracy, it’s time to destroy trump and company.”
Investigators believe the alleged shooter had been living out of his van for the last month and witnesses said they had seen him recently hanging out near the baseball field where the shooting occurred.
Investigators late Thursday were processing a cellphone, computer and camera found in the suspect’s van. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that Hodgkinson bought the high-powered rifle he used in the shooting and a 9mm handgun leally.
Earlier Thursday evening, his wife, Sue Hodgkinson, spoke outside their downstate Illinois home.
“I can’t believe he did this. I just want y’all (reporters) to go away, and leave my neighbors in peace,” she said. “They don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this. My daughters don’t deserve all this.”
Sue Hodgkinson said she had not seen her husband since March.