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After shooting, some partisans apologize for rhetoric

Members of the Republican and Democratic congressional baseball teams gathered for a bipartisan prayer before the start of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.Win McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As a US congressman remained hospitalized with a gunshot wound and the president called for unity, some, but not all, of America’s political combatants engaged Thursday in introspection and called for cooler rhetoric in the wake of the armed assault on a Republican baseball practice.

Republican congressman Steve Scalise was still listed in critical condition in a Washington hospital. President Trump, who visited the wounded lawmaker Wednesday, cited Scalise’s injuries while saying he remained hopeful that the incident would bring Americans closer together, not drive them further apart.

“We’ve had a very, very divided country for many years, and I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice. But there could be some unity being brought to our country,” Trump said. “Let’s hope so.”


Other conservative figures such as firebrand Ted Nugent and Representative Chris Collins of New York said they were rethinking the tone of their rhetoric in the wake of the Wednesday morning shooting.

Nugent, who once called former president Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel,” said he was looking to change and accepted responsibility for passing on hateful language.

“I encourage even my friends and enemies on the left and in the Democratic world, that we’ve got to be more civil to each other,” Nugent said Thursday on a radio show. “We have to be more respectful to the other side.”

Collins, one of Trump’s most loyal followers in Congress who immediately blamed Democrats for causing the shooting Wednesday, said he regretted casting stones in the wake of the tragedy.

Later, Collins went further, saying he is taking time to rethink the way he goes about his political rhetoric.

“I do regret certainly what I said,” Collins said Thursday on MSNBC. “I’ve been careful to clarify it moving forward.”

In the 24 hours after the Wednesday morning shooting, most Democrats and Republicans in Congress echoed the need to come together. But in the broader debate — which played out in the media — some partisans blamed each other for ratcheting up the sort of political hatred that fueled Wednesday’s attack, allegedly committed by an Illinois man named James T. Hodgkinson.


Hodgkinson, a left-wing activist who volunteered on the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wounded five people at the Republican baseball practice before he was killed by Capitol Police officers at the scene.

“A left wing nut with a gun is as dangerous as a right wing nut with a gun,” tweeted Richard Painter, a centrist and former White House ethics lawyer.

But for Democrats, the president’s embrace of harsh and divisive language during the campaign trail has set an unavoidable course in motion, where tempers like Hodgkinson’s are bound to flare.

Representative Joe Crowley, a Democrat from New York, said he lays blame for the shooting partially at the feet of the president.

“I think much of that tone is set by the president himself, and the actions that he’s taken,” he said. “Not just the United States but the entire world is unsettled.”

“I’m not attacking the person of the president, but the policies or the actions that he’s taking,” he added.

Even a Republican agreed with that sentiment. GOP Representative Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, said many citizens are thinking, “If the guy at the top can say anything to anybody anytime, why can’t I?’”


“I would argue that the president has unleashed, partially, again, not in any way totally, but [he is] partially to blame for the demons that have been unleashed,” Sanford said.

On the other side, many Republicans are blaming anti-Trump protesters, who they said have yet to accept the election results and are undermining Trump’s legitimacy.

“The Democrat base voter is who shot up the Republican Congress today in Virginia, he was a mainstream Democrat voter,” popular conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said on the Wednesday episode of his show.

Leading Breitbart News Thursday were two articles, one headlined “Left wing extremist offenses up 112 percent in Austria” and one chronicling “Worldwide Hate” of right-wing politicians.

“I think we are in a clear-cut cultural civil war,” former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said on Fox News.

The shocking, politically motivated shooting has seemingly sent political observers into their familiar partisan corners, while Democrats and Republicans have essentially switched talking points from the last time a member of Congress was shot by a disgruntled gunman in 2011.

At that time, many Democrats argued that the attack on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords was a manifestation of the anti-Obama political rhetoric propagated by the right-wing Tea Party — which Republicans vehemently denied. Now, Republicans are adamant that Democrats went too far with their anti-Trump rhetoric, leading to Wednesday’s mass shooting.

In the Twitter universe, arguments casting blame for the shooting were still proliferating. Democrats blamed Republicans. Republicans blamed Democrats.


On Thursday morning, the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper in the capital, ran an opinion piece that argued the recent spate of political violence constituted the “first shots in second American Civil War.” Alex Jones, the conspiratorial right-wing media mogul and Trump confidant who heralds thousands of followers, posted a video Wednesday that used that same phrase.

“The first shots of the second American Civil War have already been fired,” Jones said. Democrats are “all over the news saying, ‘kill [Trump’s] supporters, chop [Trump’s] head off, kill his family.’ They’re everywhere. . . . These people want a war. That’s what they’re into. That’s what they stand for.”

Iowa Representative Steve King blamed the “left’’ for creating an environment ripe for the shooter’s actions.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, responded to the mudslinging with indignation.

“I think that the comments made by my Republican colleagues are outrageous, beneath the dignity of the job that they hold, beneath the dignity of the respect that we would like Congress to command,” Pelosi said. “How dare they say such thing[s]? How dare they?”

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.