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Shocking shooting of colleague allows House to focus on what unites them

Witness video captures gunshots at congressional baseball practice

In a video, witness Noah Nathan captured gunshots where Republican members of Congress were practicing for a charity baseball game Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Several people were injured, including Rep. Steve Scalise.
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In a video, witness Noah Nathan captured gunshots where Republican members of Congress were practicing for a charity baseball game Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Several people were injured, including Rep. Steve Scalise.

Members of Congress from the central San Joaquin Valley said Wednesday that the shooting of their colleague Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, has given the House of Representatives an opportunity to focus on what unites them instead of what divides them, at least temporarily.

“Despite our differences, we are united through mutual respect and shared dedication to serving our country,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, in a statement.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, echoed the sentiment in his statement: “Regardless of our differences and disagreements, we are one House. And, as a country, we are one nation.”

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, quoted the Speaker of the House: “I join Speaker Paul Ryan in echoing his sentiment that ‘an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.’ We must stand in solidarity and not allow the actions of one cowardly individual to define who we are as a nation.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, did not issue a statement.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the lawmakers commented on the perils of heated political rhetoric.

“There is no doubt politics can be heated, at times, even dirty, but it should absolutely never be violent,” Valadao said. “Today’s senseless act wasn’t an attack against Republicans or Democrats, this was an attack against our democracy.  We must never let our political beliefs supersede our respect for one another.”

There is too much hateful and divisive comments that take place in our public debate these days.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno

He added, “As we continue to pray for the swift recovery of Congressman Steve Scalise and the four individuals injured this morning, let us put aside our political differences and come together, as Americans.”

Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) held a news conference Wednesday, June 15, 2017, after a shooting where Republican members of Congress were practicing for a charity baseball game.

Costa said in an interview that overheated political rhetoric increases risks to the personal safety of members of Congress.

“There is too much hateful and divisive comments that take place in our public debate these days,” he said. “It’s oftentimes hurtful and based on raw emotions that bring out the worst in people.”

Politicians needs to tone down the rhetoric, he said.

“I get especially upset when elected officials who know better play on that divisiveness for their own political gain,” he said. “That’s not helpful to a civil discussion  In a democracy we need to be respectful of each other.”

The shooting occurred when several Republican members of Congress were at an early morning practice for the annual congressional baseball game between Republicans and Democrats.

The game is a tradition that not only raises money for charity, “it creates opportunities for bipartisan engagement for members of Congress and staff,” Costa said.

Besides Scalise, who is in critical condition after surgery, three others were shot: Zack Barth, a congressional staff member, Matt Mika, a lobbyist and former staff member reportedly in critical condition, and Capitol Police officer Krystal Griner. Officer David Bailey suffered a minor leg injury during the incident.

The man who opened fire, James T. Hodgkinson, was killed.

Members of Congress who hold leadership posts – Scalise is the House majority whip – have security details, but most members of Congress do not, Costa said.

If Scalise had not had Capitol police officers with him, the carnage surely would have been worse, he said. The two Capitol police officers who reportedly killed the shooter are heroes, he said.

The shooting will not keep him for attending public events, Costa said.

“I’m fatalistic about it,” he said. “I have had over the years a number of threats to my life, especially 2008 to 2010 during the height of the Tea Party movement.”

At one point the threats got so bad the Capitol Police and the FBI investigated, he said.

“Part of my job is to be accessible to the public,” he said. “I’m not going to change my way of life.”

Wednesday morning, the House held a closed session meeting to talk about what happened, he said.

“We talked about improving security for members,” Costa said. Security protocols and options will surely be reviewed, but no quick changes are likely, he said.

Although mass shootings often prompt calls for gun control legislation, “I have to say it’s not likely” such legislation would advance in Congress, Costa said.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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