A familiar pattern on Capitol Hill repeated itself Thursday: A shocking, tragic incident occurs. Lawmakers gather together and pray. Then suddenly it’s raw, partisan business as usual.
And so it was, the morning after a gunman opened fire on members of the congressional Republican baseball team as they practiced on an Alexandria, Va., field on Wednesday. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., remained in critical condition. Four others were wounded.
Even as Capitol Hill sought to portray a unified front and lawmakers from both parties lamented the poisonous political atmosphere in which Wednesday’s incident occurred, the White House, Democrats, Republicans and their surrogates were back at work firing tough rhetoric at one another.
“Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, 'bleached' emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?” President Donald Trump tweeted late Thursday afternoon.
“You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people!” he said in another tweet.
At the Capitol, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price hard on whether he agreed with Trump’s charge that the GOP-written House health care bill was “mean.” Price wouldn’t answer yes or no.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., provided her own answer, telling reporters that the GOP plan “means higher health care costs, tens of millions of hardworking Americans losing health coverage, gutting key protections...and stealing Medicare.”
Outside Washington, the venom was flowing too.
Michael Caputo, who served as an adviser for Trump’s presidential campaign, blamed a Democratic Party obsession with possible Trump campaign and administration ties to Russia for the shooting.
"Yesterday, the Democrats and Russiagate got their first blood count," Caputo said Thursday on Fox Radio’s "Kilmeade & Friends". "There’s no other reason for what happened. If the shooter only got his news from (liberal talk show host) Rachel Maddow and the lies are pushed by just one side, you have to say what this is. And you have to say Alexandria is a crystal clear result of all these lies."
James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., who belonged to a number of anti-Republican groups, opened fire on the GOP baseball team as it held what would have been the final practice before Thursday’s game against the Democrats in Washington at Nationals Park.
Hodgkinson was fatally shot Wednesday by two Capitol Hill Police officers assigned to protect Scalise.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., railed against Democrats in an interview on a Buffalo radio station Wednesday, saying they need to "tone down the rhetoric." Collins apologized, but several Democrats didn’t appear to be in an accepting mood Thursday.
"I think that the comments made by my Republican colleagues are outrageous, beneath the dignity of the job that they hold, beneath the dignity and the respect that we would like Congress to command," Pelosi told reporters Thursday.
For Hodgkinson, a Bernie Sanders supporter, to fire a hail of bullets at Republicans is "despicable," Pelosi said. But she said Republicans and conservatives blaming Democratic actions and comments for Wednesday’s shooting "sanctimonious," noting that she’s often the subject of rhetorically harsh ads from the political right.
Probably as we sit here, they're running caricatures of me and...we're into over $100 million of vitriolic things that they say that resulted in calls to my home constantly, threats in front of my grandchildren
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
When asked about GOP suggestions that the rhetoric on the left was to blame for today’s political atmosphere, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said "I would quote the late great singer Michael Jackson that if you want to make a change, start with the man in the mirror."
He noted in an apparent reference to Trump that "I never had confrontations and fights at my rallies. I never said ‘drag somebody out of my rally.’"
"We don’t need to point fingers," Richmond said, "but it starts at the top."
Thursday’s bickering occurred as both parties credited themselves for displaying a bipartisan front after the Alexandria shooting. A routinely-divided Senate passed a sweeping sanctions bill aimed at Russia and Iran on a 98-2 vote Thursday. The bill was a bipartisan slap at Trump as it seeks to punish Russia for interfering in the U.S. elections and for Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine and Syria.
Democratic and Republican senators literally broke bread together, noshing on ribs Thursday at the annual Senate bipartisan summer barbecue.
"This is what I want to say: that we are Americans first, regardless of party," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday. "We are all on the same team."
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, the third base coach for the GOP baseball team, agreed.
"We have got to begin to dial back our rhetoric, we need to agree to disagree," Williams said before the game. "Maybe this is the event that will begin to do that."
Unlikely. About three hours before the baseball game was to begin, Trump was at it with tweets.
“Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?” he asked.