The routine of a busy Wednesday had just begun on Capitol Hill.
Many lawmakers were away at early-morning practice, preparing for an annual Washington ritual that had survived Congress’s recent turn toward polarization and division: the Democrats vs. Republicans Congressional Baseball Game.
Among those who didn’t play baseball, a few senators and House lawmakers were already at work, attending breakfast meetings or preparing for morning TV interviews. Others were still on their own time — reading at home or working out at the members-only House gym.
Then, in the gym, somebody arrived to stop the workout of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
Ryan walked out, other lawmakers reported, guided by officers from his U.S. Capitol Police protective detail.
The members left behind were still riding exercise bikes, watching TV. Then they saw it, too.
“Democrats, Republicans — we just all saw it in real time as it came in,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.). “Everyone was just stunned. They’re used to shocking news every day. … We’re riding bikes looking at the TVs. We’re just taking it in.”
Capitol Police then told lingering members about the shooting. Members quickly packed their bags and left for their offices.
“Nobody knew what the hell was going on,” one Republican lawmaker said. “People just left.”
On Capitol Hill, the routine of a busy Wednesday stopped.
Votes were canceled. Speeches were canceled. They would not resume until around noon, with an emotional address to the full House by Ryan.
Early that morning, at the Democrats’ own baseball practice, members were called from the field into the dugout, and they stayed there under police protection, they said. One Democrat, Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen (D-Nev.), posted a photo on Twitter, showing members praying in T-shirts and shorts.
Lawmakers and staffers watched television and searched for news about the injured — who turned out to be a cross section of Capitol Hill’s crowded, varied world. A top lawmaker, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had been shot and left in critical condition. The others were Zach Barth, a congressional aide, Capitol Police Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, and Matt Mika, an employee of Tyson Foods, a sponsor of the game.
The shooting had touched all of them during one of the most lighthearted scenes of the congressional calendar: grown men playing a kids’ game in the early morning.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a clinical psychologist, met the bus carrying lawmakers back to the Capitol and offered them post-traumatic stress counseling.
Kevin McCarthy, the second-ranking House Republican, was not at the scene of the shooting. He told reporters that he knew the two police officers, calling them“amazing individuals” who saved the lives of lawmakers.
“If you talk to the members who were there, they will tell you they went out into the fire to draw the fire,” McCarthy said. “The shooter was moving towards the dugout where the members were, and they were able to take him down.”
Asked about Scalise, McCarthy started to well up.
“I’ve known Steve since Young Republicans — long before we ever served in the House,” he said before walking away.
As news like that filtered through the Hill, a chilling thought set in for members of both parties. For those who were in office in 2011, it was a replay of the fear that followed the shooting that critically wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) in Arizona.
Once again, they had been targeted.
“Why he picked the baseball game, I don’t know,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said after the shooting. “It may have been the easiest thing he could have gotten to, a public place knowing that it wasn’t going to be surrounded by Capitol Police. It sounds like the guy had a thought process and wanted to inflict as much damage as possible.”
As the morning continued, other Republican baseball players began to filter back to the Hill, still in their jerseys with “Republicans” in cursive script.
“It would have been a lot worse without Steve Scalise’s detail,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who was present for the attack and did interviews in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall while still wearing cleats and dirty baseball pants.
“This has got to stop,” Davis said of rising political tensions in the country. “We’ve got to ratchet down the rhetoric.”
Other Republican lawmakers said the shooting made them more concerned about their own security, especially after tense town-hall meetings in recent weeks about Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
Brat, the Virginia congressman, said he worried about the protection members of Congress get when they are outside the Capitol’s security bubble.
“It’s nothing near what it needs to be,” Brat said.
“These town halls — we go out in front of a thousand people screaming, and all it takes is one person off the reservation and you’re in trouble,” he said. “So we need to start thinking this through.”
“You’re taking a risk,” Brat said. “Now everyone is going to reassess the risk.”
In the House, Scalise is known as a gregarious lawmaker who rose to a leadership post on the strength of his relationships with colleagues. He was also known as somebody who loved baseball, and this game. During Scalise’s race for majority whip in 2014, he gave out red baseball bats to his supporters after his victory. They were emblazoned with the slogan, “Bring the wood.”
One Republican — Rep. Steve King (Iowa) — was not present at the time of the shootings, but he traveled to the scene and spoke with reporters. King blamed “the left” for the shooting even before authorities had released any details about the shooter or his political views.
King said he saw the shooting as connected to the large protests that happened after President Trump’s election. The vast majority of those protests were peaceful, although there have been scenes — in Washington on Inauguration Day, and in Berkeley, Calif., when a far-right figure was to speak — where protesters set fires and clashed with police.
“It’s the same coalitions of people on that side that don’t accept the results of the election,” King said. “If we can’t disagree and respect the opinions of others and move with the majority in this country, and with the constitutionally legitimate elections, then this country is going to crack apart.”
Around noon Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke on the Senate floor to condemn the shooting. The alleged shooter — James T. Hodgkinson of Illinois — had supported Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a friend of Hodgkinson’s.
“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,” Sanders said. “I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action.”
A staffer for Sanders said that Hodgkinson had apparently volunteered for Sanders’s 2016 campaign but that Hodgkinson “didn’t have any kind of formal role” in the campaign and was not a paid staffer. The Sanders staffer, who was not authorized to speak for the campaign, asked not to be identified.
Across the Capitol, the House reopened about noon.
As members took their seats on the House floor, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a member of the GOP baseball team, spotted Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), the coach of the Democrats’ team. “Hey, coach!” Fleischmann shouted across the room.
They met in the House’s central “well,” where speeches are given. Fleischmann still had his jersey on. Doyle put his right hand on Fleischmann’s left shoulder as they talked.
Meanwhile, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) — who was at the practice during the shooting — was sitting in the front row on the Republican side describing the shooting. McCarthy (R-Calif.) was listening, along with Reps. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), John Culberson (R-Tex.) and several others. Loudermilk held his eyeglasses in one hand and gesticulated as he described the scene.
“All rise!” the Sergeant at Arms shouted at 12:14 p.m.
The Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, a Catholic priest and House Chaplain, then prayed for Scalise and for a country with “a free and open society.”
“But once again, we are reminded that there is a vulnerability that comes with that openness,” he said, adding later: “May Republicans and Democrats be mindful of the rare companionship they share. Men and women who have taken very public responsibility for our country.”
Afterward, Ryan praised the two Capitol police officers who were injured while returning fire. He said he hoped that the attack would bring a fractious chamber together:
“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.”
The House cheered.
They will gather again Thursday evening, when the Congressional Baseball Game is scheduled to be played at Nationals Park.
Costa reported from Atlanta. Elise Viebeck, Paul Kane, Mike DeBonis, Amber Phillips and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.