PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — An early morning practice for the annual Congressional baseball game is the last place to expect gun violence, says U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills, who manages the Democrats’ baseball team.
“Our team was taking batting practice, and I was standing behind home plate, and I got a text message from a member of my staff asking me if we were okay, which was a little confusing to me at first,” Doyle told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
“And then the follow-up: there’s been a shooting at the Congressional baseball practice, and I knew it wasn’t ours.”
CBS’s Mola Lenghi with the latest —
Indeed, Doyle quickly learned that it was his Republican colleagues’ team that was under attack, so he called his players off the field.
“Everyone was kind of stunned and silent, and we went into the dugout and basically just started saying a prayer for our Republican colleagues that they were okay.”
That’s Doyle in the gold number #21 Clemente shirt in a picture later referenced by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“There is one image in particular that this House should keep, and that is a photo I saw this morning,” Ryan said to the House chamber. “And that is our Democratic colleagues gathered in prayer this morning after hearing the news.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, an Upper St. Clair Republican, says he was with the Speaker when the news broke.
“I was actually with the Speaker Paul Ryan when a security detail came over and took him aside which never happens,” recalled Murphy.
All members KDKA spoke to say it’s time to lower the rhetoric.
“I’ve never seen the level of anger and incivility taking place right now,” noted U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler. “I’m not shocked that it’s happened, but I’m stunned that we’ve allowed ourselves to get to this point.”
So what about that bi-partisan ballgame on Thursday night…
“If you ask the players on the Republican and Democratic teams what they want to do, they’d say we should play,” says Doyle.
Congressional leaders have decided to go ahead with the game Thursday evening.
The event raises $600,000 for local charities.
Republicans won last year, 8 to 7, after the Democrats won the preceding seven games.
Each party has 39 wins.
Even without their second baseman, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise — now recovering — Republicans intend to repeat their victory.
Doyle, the Democratic team manager, says he’s invited the entire Republican baseball team to the Democratic Club tonight for dinner.
KDKA’s Jon Delano Reports —
Ryan told the House of Representatives, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
That comment got a rare standing ovation from all in the chamber.
But rhetoric aside, the shooting of congressmen raises serious security concerns.
“The hateful rhetoric, the bitterness, the things that people say, has got to stop,” says Murphy. “Everybody has to take responsibility, regardless of your party.”
From the racist attacks on President Obama to the depiction of a murdered President Trump, social media, say some, makes it worse.
“There’s a level of anonymity there,” notes Kelly.“People say things and they depict things in a horrible way, and they’re shielded by the fact that it’s anonymous.”
But in a nation that values free speech, toning down the rhetoric may not curb violence against lawmakers.
That takes security guards.
Because Scalise is a House officer, he had police protection even on the practice field.
Not so for all the others.
“Had that happened at our practice, we literally would have been sitting ducks,” Doyle said.
Doyle says it’s time to rethink security for gatherings of members of Congress.
“I do think that maybe situations like that might merit a little bit more presence of the police when you have that many members.”
Murphy says he takes many security precautions, including not holding town meetings.
“We’re prudent in a number of actions we take and how we do things, and where we appear, how that occurs. and I think people may misconstrue sometimes when I don’t want do things in a certain way, but there are security concerns behind all this,” adds Murphy.
But nobody seems to want personal protection.
“I think most members of Congress would tell you they don’t want personal security,” says Doyle. “I know I don’t. There’s 435 of us. I don’t want to live my life with a security officer near me.”
We are a democracy, and House members, in particular, do not like barriers between themselves and their neighbors who they represent.
Still, a tragedy like this has every congressional office double-thinking the best way to protect themselves and the constituents with whom they come in contact.