At congressional baseball game, newfound unity has its limits

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Fans in the Republican section at the 2017 congressional baseball game at Nationals Park. (Photo: Yahoo News/Hunter Walker)

WASHINGTON — A record crowd of 25,000 gathered to watch the annual congressional baseball game at Nationals Park on Thursday night — a day after a shooting at the Republican team’s practice sent five people to the hospital. The Democratic members of Congress defeated the Republicans 11-2 at the event, which opened with members of both parties kneeling in prayer on the field before the game. Many attendees said the incident fostered a spirit of unity in the infamously fractured and gridlocked Congress, but that newfound bipartisan togetherness was already showing strains before the bottom of the ninth.

Members of both parties’ teams wore Louisiana State University hats in honor of the alma matter of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was grievously injured in the shooting as a bullet tore through his abdomen. Two members of the Capitol Police, a congressional aide and a lobbyist were also injured in the attack.

Related slideshow: Congressional baseball game, 1 day after shooting >>>

President Trump’s daughter Ivanka was in attendance and greeted both teams as they prepared to play. The president kicked off the action with a videotaped announcement on the Jumbotron.

“On this special night, I leave you with three great American words that for generations have torn down barriers, built bridges of unity and defied those who have sought to pull us apart. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s play ball!” Trump said.

Ivanka similarly called for unity when Yahoo News asked who she’d be cheering for.

“I’m rooting for everyone! No politics this evening,” she said.

The first pitch was thrown by one of the two Capitol Police officers wounded while returning fire on the gunman in Alexandria, helping to prevent what Sen. Rand Paul said would otherwise have been a “massacre” and sustaining a leg wound in the process. David Bailey walked onto the field on crutches amid roaring cheers. His pitch, weight shifted onto his good leg, bounced across the plate, and was followed by backslaps on the mound from legendary former Yankees manager Joe Torre. As Bailey returned to the stands, he was greeted by Marty LaVor, a photographer who also had been present at the shooting. LaVor said he owed his life to Bailey and the other police officers who took down the gunman.

Special Agent David Bailey of the U.S. Capitol Police, with former Yankees manager Joe Torre, throws out the first pitch during the congressional baseball game at Nationals Park. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

“I am alive because of him. You can’t say thank you enough, and he and the other Capitol Police really saved all of us,” LaVor said. “He’s my hero. What I said to him was, ‘You will always be in my prayers.’”

Authorities have identified the shooter as James Hodgkinson. Witnesses said the shooter asked the players at their early morning practice which party was on the field and only began shooting after learning they were Republicans. Social media posts written by Hodgkinson show he supported a variety of liberal causes and volunteered for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., last year.

At the game, the fans were divided into Republican and Democratic sections. And in the stands, political attacks mixed with the push for nonpartisanship. On the Democratic side, Rep. Greg Meeks of New York told Yahoo News, “This is a good game to start out showing that we’re working, that we’re here together.”

“You would hope though that we’d also understand that words means something, and we’ve got people out there who just listen to our words and they take things to the extreme and/or they’re not of stable mind,” Meeks said. “So, hopefully, we’ll be mindful of the words … so that we don’t excite those who are extremists … or who may not be in their right mind.”

Those changes need to start at home, Meeks said. “We’ve first got to do it here in the House,” he said. But he also pointed to President Trump, who has been criticized by opponents for encouraging violence at his campaign rallies and launching sharp attacks on rivals. Meeks alluded to a tweet Trump wrote earlier Thursday evening blaming the probes into his administration and campaign on “very bad and conflicted people.”

“Some of the things that the president has done are very concerning to me, his language … it’s been very concerning. So I would hope that the president learns different,” said Meeks. “I mean, I’m discouraged by even what he said today: ‘those terrible people are doing things.’ That leaves an impression in people’s minds that someone is evil. … So the president needs to watch his mouth and his tweets also.”

Over in the Republican seats, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway described the game as a “wonderful night” and said she was “so happy” the victims of the shooting were recovering.

“There’s differences of opinion. Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Opinion is power.’ People want their issues to prevail and other issues to fail, but at the same time, those differences should be displayed more respectfully,” Conway said.

Conway went on to urge people inside and outside of Washington to “dial down the temperature a little bit, and the toxicity.” However, she bristled when Yahoo News asked if that extended to the president and whether he might need to change his tone at all. Conway pointed to the shooter’s liberal views.

“Let’s not muddy the waters here and conflate the two. Since you raised the issue, I’ll bite. The murderer yesterday — the person who wanted to murder members of Congress yesterday — did so, we see, with a particular political set of beliefs. And that’s really a shame that people who are told to resist take it that far,” Conway said.

White House advisers Gary Cohn and Kellyanne Conway at the 2017 congressional baseball game at Nationals Park. (Photo: Hunter Walker/Yahoo News)

Several other top White House staffers were at the game. Conway was joined by the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, who sported a baseball uniform. Mulvaney, who played shortstop for the Republicans when he was in Congress, said he was the GOP’s first base coach.

As she talked to Yahoo News, Conway spotted top White House adviser Gary Cohn, who was in a dark suit. She called Cohn over.

“Look how Gary Cohn dresses for a baseball game. He dresses like Gary Cohn! Gary, come here!” Conway beckoned.

“He came out of the womb looking like that,” quipped Mulvaney as Cohn strolled over.

“This is New York chic,” said Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs banker.

As Cohn posed for photos with Conway, Mulvaney reached over and put an LSU hat on his head. Cohn couldn’t see the cap.

“Does it make me a hillbilly?” Cohn asked.

“We couldn’t make you a hillbilly if we tried,” Mulvaney said.

Cohn was there to present a $50,000 check from a group called Friends of the Trump Administration. The baseball game raises funds for local charities, and in light of events this year, recipients included the Capitol Police Memorial Fund. Cohn said the donation was organized via an “email sent out this morning from a bunch of us” that included Trump, Cohn, Cabinet secretaries, Ivanka and her husband, top White House adviser and real estate developer Jared Kushner. The White House has said Trump also plans to make a personal donation.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democrats’ House minority whip, was at the game in a “Team Scalise” T-shirt. He picked it up in Scalise’s office after delivering pizza to his wounded colleague’s staff. In the stands, people held up signs that read “Scalise Strong.”

“It’s a show of solidarity. A member of Congress was shot, not a Republican member or a Democratic member,” Hoyer said. “We need to make sure that we treat one another in a way that understands that you are elected by the people, I respect your view. I may disagree with you. And this ought to be a lesson for us all.”

Related slideshow: Shooting at GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Va. >>>

Still, Hoyer was somewhat pessimistic the shooting would lead to a permanent change in the discourse.

“You know, my experience is that it changes for a relatively short period of time,” Hoyer said of moments of unity in Congress. “People are very passionate and energized about the issues they care about. The issues are very important, and as a result, usually this doesn’t last long.”

Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also told Yahoo News there’s “much more unity” in Congress following the shooting.

“You look at the crowd tonight — there’s never been a crowd this large,” said McCarthy, surveying the stadium. “I don’t think anyone’s cheering about whether Republicans or Democrats will win. They’re thinking, at the end of the day, just Americans are going to win this game.”

Asked if he thought the newfound spirit would carry forward, McCarthy said, “I sure hope so.” At that moment, Bailey, the injured Capitol Police officer, gingerly passed by on his crutches.

“If there’s any time that it needs to carry, now’s the time,” McCarthy said before pointing to Bailey. “This guy has the most to do with it though.”


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