Ivanka Trump, preppy in sunglasses and all-white dress, posed for selfies with lawmakers in the Republican dugout. The O’Jays’ “Love Train” ( “People all over the world, join hands . . . start a love train”) blared through the ballpark speakers.
And Greg Rudder of Harrisburg, Pa., who was leading a group of teenagers on a visit to the District, sported a purple, glittered ribbon — a color that evoked Louisiana State University and the home state of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was left in critical condition after a shooting at an Alexandria baseball field Wednesday morning.
Rudder said he was planning to attend Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park — an annual, bipartisan tradition dating to 1909 that raises money for charity — but the sparkling ribbon was an improvised, personal touch.
“It’s for Mr. Scalise,” Rudder said. “But also: Blue and red unified is purple. Maybe something good will come of what happened.”
But one muggy evening of loosened ties and bipartisan bunts does not unity make. Although the 36 hours since the shooting had given way to a string of touching moments — the male Capitol Police officer who was shot threw out the first pitch, which bounced over home plate — lawmakers throughout the day on Thursday struggled to point to tangible across-the-aisle measures, especially on the policy front, that might emerge from the frequent proclamations of accord.
Before the game, lawmakers gathered in the middle of the diamond to chants of “USA! USA!” — yet another auditory reminder that tragedy had elevated the already rare bipartisan event to a poignant evening of pathos and prayer.
The camaraderie felt as thick as the city’s June heat — still above 80 as the sun slowly set — but the enterprise was, in its own way, disorienting. The faint stench of beer indigenous to ballparks and the shouts of vendors (“Peanuts! Get your peanuts!”) belied the shooting the day before, which in addition to Scalise left four others wounded by gunfire and the gunman dead.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) stood alone shortly before the opening pitch, leaning on a railing and looking out over the field. He joked about his fellow lawmakers’ lack of skill — “These are a bunch of duffers, okay? I saw them and thought, ‘I should have tried out’ ” — but his mood was subdued, dipping into sadness.
“I feel a little emotional,” Cassidy said. “Scalise was shot. Everybody’s enjoying themselves, but there’s a little bit of a pall.”
In a less-than-optically ideal move, stadium ushers directed spectators to the “Democratic side” and “Republican side” of the ballpark. And political harmony was buffeted by the hard edge of reality.
Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, attended the game in slacks and tie, chatting with other politicians and snapping photos with constituents.
“It’s even more important to be here today to show unity,” he said, as Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) walked by, prompting Crist to sling his arm around her.
“Look, unity,” he said. “This is my Republican friend.”
“You just voted against my bill,” Tenney teased.
Earlier in the day, just off the House floor, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) articulated the challenge as one of deeply held, entrenched ideology. “We actually hold different views, so how do you get bipartisan unity?” he asked, using the Republican health-care legislation stutter-stepping through Congress as an example. “They’re trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and we believe in the Affordable Care Act. Where’s the bipartisan unity there? You split the baby in half? Get half health-care policy? Instead of 23 million people kicked off you get 12 million?”
Still, he suggested, perhaps lawmakers could at least “tone down” their rhetoric. “I think we should not attribute negative motives, and we shouldn’t speak in stark moral terms of good and evil about each other,” Ellison said. “I think you can be polite, mannerly and stand on your values, and I think that’s the best anybody can hope for.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was even less sunny. He agreed that the lack of bipartisanship and boiling words need to change but, he said, “I’m not sure a shooting is going to change it.”
“I’m not sure it will ever change,” McCain said, heading toward the Senate subway.
Still, in the corridors of the Capitol on Thursday, and in their full-force presence at the bipartisan Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday evening, lawmakers appeared both shaken and humbled — their mood and tone muted and their often-feverish rhetoric tempered, at least for another day.
Eighty-four senators showed up for a long-planned bipartisan lunch in the Kennedy Caucus Room on Thursday, the ninth annual barbecue hosted by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Democrats and Republicans nestled together as they enjoyed 400 pounds of meat, driven up from Georgia by a team from Sam’s BBQ1 and smoked across the river in Alexandria, and talk kept returning to the shooting.
“You know what I’d love? We are having a bipartisan lunch today. We only do about two or three of those a year,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). “I’d love to do that once a week. That’s a concrete thing we ought to do.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested something more tactile. “I like to hug strangers,” she said. “If I hug more Republicans, that helps — literally — on a personal level.”
The attendance for the game Thursday night was larger than usual, with roughly triple the turnout of previous years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — not known as an avid player or spectator — made a point of attending.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also sat for a joint interview with CNN before the first pitch was thrown — the sort of appearance typically reserved for a head-to-head, dueling town hall format. Instead, the two smiled warmly, Pelosi sporting a purple LSU shirt and Ryan wearing a purple LSU hat.
McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also appeared from the game for their first joint television appearance as Senate leaders on CNN.
In a slightly forced tableau — both endearingly goofy and legitimately awkward — the four congressional leaders kicked off the game by draping their arms around one another and declaring, “Democrats and Republicans, play ball!”
Playing legislative ball, however, may prove a heavier lift, although several members suggested modest ideas of varying feasibility. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, suggested an initiative in which the House leadership promises to move 435 bills — one for each member.
“If you truly empower all 435 members, and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to move 435 pieces of legislation,’ and each member gets to pick something to find 20 people to work with on, let me just tell you, there would be a new sense of cooperation,” Meadows said.
McCaskill suggested that senators introduce bills only with bipartisan support. And Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) offered one change that Congress could make so it is not so divided, literally, along party lines: Allow Republicans and Democrats to sit together on the House floor.
“You’re always separated on the House floor by party,” Castro said. “These are long-standing features of the institution, but we have traditions that don’t necessarily need to go on forever.”
Some people showed up at the game in their own personal acts of defiance, among them John Glorioso and his wife, who arrived in Washington from Scalise’s New Orleans district on Saturday with their daughter. When they told their daughter they planned to attend Thursday night’s game, she said it could be dangerous and begged them not to go.
“I told her, ‘Baby, no, we’re going,’ ” Glorioso said. “Let’s be one country.”
But other Capitol Hill habits die hard, even at the ballpark, including a healthy wariness of the news media. A trio of young adults wearing “Team Brady” shirts would not confirm whether they were attending as staffers for Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) or to wish well to Scalise, who was pictured on the back of their shirts.
“We’re not allowed to say anything to you — nothing,” said one young woman, eating what looked like cheese fries.
Still, others were at least slightly more optimistic that change was possible. Julie and Chris Lucia traveled from Texas to the nation’s capital for the first time this week to visit the monuments and museums.
But first, the married couple wanted to take their Christmas card photo in front of the U.S. Capitol.
She wore a blue shirt with an etching of the Capitol on it to signify her support for the Democratic Party. He wore the same shirt in red to show his Republican leanings.
If they can find love with each other, they said, then surely Congress can be a bit more collegial.