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Attack on congressman provokes somber reflection in Washington

June 14, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
A gunman opened fire Wednesday in Alexandria, Va., during a morning practice for the Congressional Baseball Game. The gunman, who died from his injuries sustained during the attack, shot Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, and four others. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff for an update on the reaction from Capitol Hill.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A leading Republican in the U.S. House lies critically wounded tonight. The Illinois man who shot him, along with a police officer, a congressional staffer, and a lobbyist, has died.

They came together in a fusillade of bullets and bloodshed early today, just outside Washington.

Our Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

(GUNFIRE)

LISA DESJARDINS: For at least five minutes, gunshots crackled across the Northern Virginia baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing. Cell phone video shared with the NewsHour captured a harrowing scene of a gunfight between the attacker and Capitol Police.

MAN: Hey. Is that guy OK out there? Has that guy been shot? Is he OK? Is anybody talking to him?

LISA DESJARDINS: The man who shot the video, Noah Nathan, had been out walking his dogs.

NOAH NATHAN, Eyewitness: I saw the congressional players, and, you know, they’re a regular here practicing in the morning. And then I heard — I thought it was fireworks.

And then I heard another one and realized, OK, maybe that’s not fireworks. It’s gunfire. And then people started scattering, and then there was more shots and you could hear them skimming off the gravel and hitting the fence. And it was a helpless feeling. I couldn’t do anything.

LISA DESJARDINS: As lawmakers jumped over fences, seeking cover, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip.

Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks saw it all.

REP. MO BROOKS, R-Ala.: It’s the feeling of helplessness, when you have got a baseball bat and a guy’s got a rifle. And you see your friends, Steve Scalise in particular, lying on the ground, dragging himself from the infield dirt to the outfield grass, and there was nothing we could do to help him.

LISA DESJARDINS: Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk says it wasn’t a random attack.

REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK, R-Ga.: There were civilians out there. There were people walking their dogs, laying on the ground screaming and crying, but he wasn’t targeting them. He was shooting at us.

LISA DESJARDINS: Joe Barton of Texas had taken his young sons to the practice.

REP. JOE BARTON, R-Texas: We got some of us were in the dugout, some of us were on the ground. I was behind the dugout. My son Jack got under an SUV. And he was very brave. My other son Brad was in the batting cage and he also was very brave.

LISA DESJARDINS: In the video, you can hear people shouting for police to shoot the gunman.

MAN: Shoot him!

LISA DESJARDINS: Again, Mo Brooks:

REP. MO BROOKS: The bravery that they displayed, taking on a guy with the rifle while they have pistols, shooting from long distance, and if they had not been successful, then the tragedy here would have undoubtedly been much greater, because those of us who were in the first base dugout, we’d of had no chance.

LISA DESJARDINS: First-responders were on the scene in minutes. Some victims were airlifted to hospitals by helicopter. Scalise underwent surgery and was in critical condition.

The suspected shooter was also taken to the hospital, where he died of his wounds. Police identified him as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois.

TIMOTHY SLATER, FBI: Law enforcement has reason to believe that the shooter has been in Alexandria, Virginia, area since March of this year. The FBI has issued again a seeking information poster that is located on our Web site asking the public to come forward with information on the shooter.

LISA DESJARDINS: Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis believes he talked with Hodgkinson just before the shooting.

REP. RON DESANTIS, R-Fla.: An unidentified individual walked up to the car, asked Congressman Duncan, who was in the front passenger seat, whether they were Republicans or Democrats in the field. It was a little bit abrasive. It was something that kind of struck me as odd, not odd to the extent I thought he was going to go shoot people.

LISA DESJARDINS: Already, a picture has begun to emerge of Hodgkinson. A Facebook page of the same name is filled with anti-Trump posts, and Hodgkinson apparently volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The Vermont senator today condemned the shooting on the Senate floor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-Vt.: I am sickened by this despicable act. And let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society. And I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.

LISA DESJARDINS: There is a contrast between the location of this shooting, a neighborhood that is known for putting up signs of welcome and opposing hate, and this act of violence that some say may symbolize rising anger in America.

At the scene, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe specifically pointed to politics.

GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE, D-Va.: What you saw in the last presidential campaign, there’s just a lot of dug-in hard feelings out there that exist in this country today. I do think our country has become way too divided between red and blue.

LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump echoed the cry for unity at the White House hours after the shooting.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.

LISA DESJARDINS: The House canceled votes for the day, but shaken lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, gathered on the House floor in a show of solidarity.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We are united. We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

(APPLAUSE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: We cannot let that be a victory for the assailant or anyone who would think that way. So, tomorrow, we will go out on the field. We will root for our team. We want everyone to do his or her very best. And we will use this occasion as one that brings us together and not separates us further.

LISA DESJARDINS: An update on conditions.

Congressman Scalise and one other staffer who was shot are in critical condition. The others injured today, we’re told, are in good or fair condition. And, also, about that baseball game, it is scheduled to be, as planned, tomorrow night. They are not canceling. And Judy, they’re adding another charity cause, the Fallen Officers Fund.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, are there changes in security as a result of what happened?

LISA DESJARDINS: I think the answer to that, Judy, is not yet. Here, of course, the Capitol is a highly secure building. There’s no changes here. No one said there need to be changes.

But there is a real question about these events where many members of Congress gather in one place. Congressman Scalise’s security detail was there today, as well as one other Capitol police officer because so many congressmen were present. They’re wondering if there need to be more of a police presence when there are not just leaders, but any members of Congress gathered in one place like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, you’re at that Capitol Building every day, practically. How are people dealing with this?

LISA DESJARDINS: I think the mood today, Judy, is sober. It’s not highly emotional, but it’s one where they are taking very serious stock of where we are as a nation and where people are in terms of how they look at their leaders and how they look at violence.

I think there’s also a lot of questions today about whether political rhetoric has, indeed, gone too far, and whether the divides that affect the votes on the House and Senate floor are reverberating back and forth with public divides now rising into anger and violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, who covers the Capitol every day for us.

Lisa, you have been on this story all day from the moment you heard about it this morning. Thank you very much.

LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure.

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