Terence Mann once told Ray Kinsella in the 1989 classic movie “Field of Dreams” that baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
That was the sentiment at the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park on Thursday, after two days of trauma, both physical and mental, that reminded the Capitol Hill community that there are bigger things at play than partisanship.
A day after House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was shot and critically wounded Wednesday morning, the charity game had a new meaning for lawmakers taking the field in an annual contest that pits the two parties against each. It had a new meaning for the record crowd, too.
There was a lot more at stake than the scoreboard — Democrats won 11-2 — and many people who were there struggled to adjust to what they should expect after the shooting rampage in which lawmakers were targeted and four victims were shot.
“This is what our country needs after such an act,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was at the practice the day before and witnessed the shooting. “There are a lot of people who don’t believe Republicans or Democrats talk to each other. They think we fight about everything, and this game should show ‘em all that we come together in America’s pastime and we have fun and we compete, and at the end we shake hands.
“The best part of the game is I sit behind home plate and I jaw with my Democratic counterparts because they’re my friends,” said Davis, the GOP team’s catcher, “and that’s a message I want to get out to people.”
President Trump and Vice President Pence did not attend the game, but Trump sent a message of unity and many other politicians of every stripe made appearances. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Kellyanne Conway, counsellor to the president, were among those in the stadium to represent the administration. All four congressional leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., led the crowd of nearly 25,000 in a “Play Ball!” chant.
Throughout the game, which featured a lack of hitting ability, hordes of stolen bases, and echoes of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 hit “Glory Days,” was a sense of togetherness. The two teams took a knee together around second base during the pregame ceremonies. After the game, the Democrat’s manager, Mike Doyle, handed the trophy to GOP manager Joe Barton and revealed that it would stand in Scalise’s office until he gets out of hospital and returns to the halls of Congress. The event raised a record $1.5 million for charity, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., revealed in a tweet late Thursday.
The main question hanaging over the game, however, was whether the newfound amity and mood of sober reflection can last and do anything to douse the flames of rancorous partisanship that have been for the past year and throughout Trump’s first five months in the White House.
“I just hope this time it lasts longer and people really sit down across the table from each other and try to understand each other,” Conway told the Washington Examiner, “because I understand why some people may be skeptical that that will be enduring and not fleeting, but we can at least try.”
Congress members shared the sentiment. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that despite bipartisan work on legislation that brings members together behind the scenes, it is bitter political differences that remain in the foreground.
“Events often mask for a time the underlying problems,” Issa added, “but they don’t eliminate them.”
While baseball was played on the field, most of those in the stands and on the field thought about Scalise, whose name received a roaring ovation during the pregame introductions. As of Thursday night, he remained in critical condition after suffering a gunshot to his hip that tore internal organs, broke bones, and has forced several surgeries.
He was shot by a man authorities identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The shooter was killed by police gunfire at the baseball practice field where the attack took place. He also shot and wounded three others — Capitol Police Special Agent Crystal Griner, Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika, and congressional staffer Zack Barth, an aide to Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, a team coach. Barth was at the game Thursday and worked at the Capitol earlier in the day.
Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., said, “I was an athlete growing up. If something else was troubling me or bothering me, it’s like I didn’t think about it for the two or three hours I was playing a game or preparing for it, but that’s not going to be possible given how serious and scary that incident was.” He added, “You just don’t stop thinking about those five individuals and praying for them and their family,” also refererring to Capitol Police officer David Bailey, who was injured during the Wednesday attack.
“In the grand scheme of things, the game means absolutely nothing, and it never has,” he continued. “But what it represents or is intended to symbolize is that, yeah, Republicans and Democrats may disagree on some things but we all love baseball. It’s America’s pastime and we can be friends. And at the end of the day we’re all human beings who like to compete and respect one another.”
Republicans believe that many of the 25 or so members of their conference who were at the baseball practice would be dead if it had not been for the action of Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail, who engaged the shooter in a gun battle. Since Wednesday, many suggestions have be offered about how best to respond to the murder attempt directed against lawmakers. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., is proposing a rule to allow lawmakers to carry concealed weapons while in the nation’s capital. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is introducing similar legislation for anyone who wishes to carry in Washington, D.C., not just lawmakers.
Beefing up the Capitol Police force is also an idea on the table. Matthew Verderosa, chief of the Capitol Police, recently asked Congress for a $33 million boost to the force’s budget in order to hire 72 more officers and increase security.
Pelosi told reporters Thursday morning that there needs to be a “discussion” about tightening security for members of Congress, including those in large groups such as the baseball practice. She also called for more money for Capitol Police.
Despite the broad mood of unity at the game, the minority leader nevertheless took a shot at Republicans, blaming them for increased violence in federal politics. She pointed to Trump’s comments on the campaign as proof.
“We have a president who says, ‘I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and nobody would care,'” she said, referring to a comment Trump made during the 2016 campaign. “When you have people saying, ‘beat him up and I’ll pay your legal fees.’,” she went on, “When you have all of the assaults that were made on Hillary Clinton.”
“For [Republicans] to be so sanctimonious is something that I really I must,” she continued, before catching herself and adding, “Sad for myself that I’ve gone down this path with you because I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to have the first discussion of it, and it will be for another day.”
In the wake of the shooting, members are speaking about the constant threats and security challenges they face, especially in their constituencies where town hall meetings have boiled over in anger. Lawmakers have been sent threatening messages in recent months, especially in the wake of the House passing the American Health Care Act, a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare.
“I’ve had more threats this year than any other time,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., adding that recently he had to report a threat to Capitol Police after his repeal and replace vote. In a message, a caller said the vote meant he wasn’t going to live long, and it was therefore Barletta’s “turn to die as well.”
“It’s just been more of that type of rhetoric than anytime in the past, and it’s really got to stop. I think it’s just gone too far now,” Barletta lamented. “These [lawmakers] are men and women who are trying to serve. You have to worry about doing town hall meetings … not only for your own safety, but for the safety of people that go, and your staff. I worry about my staff, who take a lot of the abuse from people, and I just think nationally the rhetoric has gone too hateful. … People aren’t going to want to serve.”
There is plenty of work on Capitol Hill likely to erode this week’s unity quickly. Senate Republicans are trying to pass healthcare legislation by the July 4th recess and are writing their bill behind closed doors. House Republicans are moving forward with tax reform, led by Ryan and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
And looming over these efforts are investigations into alleged connections between Russian meddling in the 2016 election and members of the Trump campaign. That scandal has widened with the appointment former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel. The investigation is expected by many to undermine Republicans’ ability to put their legislative agenda into action.
On Thursday night, though, people at the ballpark expressed hope for a brighter future.
“Tonight’s a good start,” Conway said.