House Republicans earlier this year discussed ramping up security in light of new anti-Donald Trump and anti-Republican anger on the far-left.
Now, they fear their worst nightmare has come true: a politically motivated shooting.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are fretting that their colleagues were targeted by a gunman during a Wednesday congressional baseball practice because of their party affiliation — or because of an anti-Trump sentiment pulsing through the nation. Many are asking about additional security, fearing they could be next, while also calling for civility to be restored to an increasingly divisive political discourse.
Speaking to reporters just hours after the shooting, Rep. Jeff Duncan recounted an exchange he had with the gunman before he opened fire — and before the South Carolina Republican realized the man was a threat. Duncan said the shooter stopped him in the parking lot by the field as he was leaving team practice early and asked him if Republicans or Democrats were playing.
Duncan told him it was the Republican team, and minutes later, the man opened fire.
Asked if he believed his colleagues were singled out because of party affiliation, Duncan said he did.
“Based on the question he asked me, I would make that assumption because he asked me if this team was the Republican or Democrat team privately,” he said. “I responded that it was the Republican team practicing, and he proceeded to shoot Republicans.”
He added: “Take that for what it’s worth.”
Republicans echoed Duncan’s sentiment throughout the day, as news dripped out that the Facebook page of the gunman — identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a former home inspector from Belleville, Ill. — was awash in anti-Trump posts. Rep Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), for instance, brought up the current partisan political discourse as a cause behind the shooting.
“This political rhetoric and political discourse that has led to hate, has led to gunfire,” Davis said. “I never thought I’d go to baseball practice for charity, and have to dodge bullets. This has got to stop, and it’s gotta stop today.”
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), speaking from the floor of the Capitol with a Texas Longhorns baseball hat on, called for civility on Fox News when asked whether the shooting was politically motivated: “We come up here and represent the people of the United States, and that’s very sad that someone would take it upon themselves to open a weapon and fire upon anybody of any political party or any persuasion. It’s very sad.”
Since Trump was elected president, Hill Republicans have often taken the brunt of the anger from progressives unhappy at the direction the country is headed. They’ve seen their town halls and offices overrun with protesters, and while the discourse is often civil, several Republican lawmakers have complained to POLITICO about security concerns. Some have even said they won’t hold town halls anymore for fear of their own safety. Others have received death threats.
POLITICO reported on a special conference more than two months ago in which GOP leadership asked former cop-turned-Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.) to brief members on how to ensure their staff are safe. His tips included asking police to monitor town halls, a practice that most have taken up. He also advised them to install heavy solid doors instead of glass at district offices and ensure each office has as security system in place as well as a backroom exit in case of emergencies.
Wednesday’s shooting is likely to only exacerbate those fears. During a members-only security briefing with House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving Wednesday just hours after the shooting, lawmakers pressed leadership with questions about what funds they could use to increase protection for themselves and their staff. Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego said that while no changes to security on the Hill were announced, a bunch of lawmakers asked if they could use campaign dollars to hire security back home.
Two members, Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Al Green (D-Texas), stood up to talk about death threats they had received recently.
Several Democrats leaving the briefing said they have received an influx of threats against them and their staffs in recent months as well and would be supportive of additional security measures.
“The concern is not about our personal safety as much as it is about our staff and our families,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “The lack of uniformity, especially in the districts…to even have metal detectors or a security team in place, those nuances make it more difficult to ensure the safety of our staff.”
Green said congressional leaders should consider increasing members’ annual expenditure allowance to provide extra money for security.
“An attack on one of us should be an attack on all of us,” Green said he told members during the briefing. The Texas Democrat has recently received lynching threats after calling for Trump to be impeached.
“There should be an allocation for us to have someone in our offices, in these district offices,” Green told reporters. “If it can already be used [but] budgets are tight, then we need to increase the budget so that the district offices can be protected. The staff is much more vulnerable than I am.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the next step is a review of “exactly what funds can and should be used in the event that there are security concerns by any member.”
The review will be led by Speaker Paul Ryan’s office “in communication with both the FEC and the Ethics Committee,” Hoyer added as he was leaving the briefing.
Republicans’ fear is grounded in a belief that politics had something to do with the incident. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), who was at the practice that erupted in chaos, said on TV that “you’ve got to assume [the gunman] knew what he was doing here” — though he added, “whether he was targeting certain members, we don’t know.” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who was also at the practice field, argued that “people know this is the Republican baseball team practicing” because of the security detail and the timing.
“It is pretty well known in the neighborhood who those folks are on the baseball field and where we practice, and there is probably also publicity about it on Capitol Hill,” he said. “It’s no question that he knew who we were and what he was intending to do, in my judgment, and I’m a former prosecutor in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville and yeah, he was going after elected officials, congressmen.”
Coming out of the security briefing with House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving on Wednesday, several Republicans speculated that the motivation may have been more anti-Trump than anti-Republican.
"It seems like this is was more an anti-Trump sentiment, but that’s speculation," Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said. "There was some discussion about that but clearly speculation."
Louis Nelson and Jacob Labut contributed to this report.