Hours after a gunman attacked a congressional baseball practice near Washington, D.C., Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas, a pitcher on the team, said he had skipped practice Wednesday morning because of an eerie feeling about it.
“I’ve had a bad, eerie feeling all week about this practice field,” he said in a conference call Wednesday afternoon with Kansas reporters. “Just never felt comfortable in it. Never felt it was a safe location. Just decided not to go this morning.
“Call it providence, call it what you want to.”
Marshall’s friend and colleague, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., was among five people wounded in the shooting. Scalise underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon.
The gunman, an Illinois man, died after a gun battle with Capitol Police.
“It’s a shocking day in my life,” said Marshall, a physician from Great Bend. “(I) was certainly very shaken this morning and just now getting my composure back.”
Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, also plays on the team and also skipped the practice where the shooting occurred.
On Wednesday afternoon, Yoder said that the players have practiced at the field in Alexandria, Va., for all four years he’s been on the team.
“I never would have ever dreamt that someone would have come there to hurt members of Congress,” Yoder said.
The gunman opened fire as members of Congress were practicing for their annual Republicans vs. Democrats baseball game, played for bragging rights and to raise money for charity. Staff members and lobbyists were also on hand.
Yoder said he and his colleagues are used to getting death threats and hate mail. Usually they shrug it off. That will be harder to do now, he said.
“I do think many of my colleagues will be looking over their shoulders a bit more,” he said.
The congressional game is scheduled for Thursday at Nationals Park, the Major League Baseball stadium in Washington. It is an annual tradition that began in 1909.
“We’ve been practicing two or three days a week for about six weeks for this game,” Marshall said. “Actually quite a bit of hype surrounding it. They expect 15,000 people at this game.”
Marshall said he thinks the game has raised about $600,000 so far, and he still plans to play.
“I know when Steve (Scalise) wakes up, he’s going to say he wants us to play,” Marshall said. “So if there’s a ballgame, I’ll be there.”
Marshall said Scalise was a spark plug for the Republican team.
“Steve’s close to everybody,” Marshall said. “He’s everybody’s best friend.
“He was so enthusiastic about this baseball game. He’s the guy that’s there every day at practice, diving after baseballs, chatting it up and getting everybody fired up.”
Yoder and Marshall both said they hope the attack will help cool the harsh rhetoric that has ruled recent congressional debate.
After the shooting, members from both parties came together in public prayer on the House floor and had a private meeting where Marshall said he got as many hugs from Democrats as from Republicans.
“The private conference was about unity and both Democrats and Republicans standing up and praising the Capitol Police and this comment that when one of us is attacked, all of us (are) attacked certainly was very much of a bipartisan flavor,” he said.
Marshall said he hopes that spirit of cooperation will last.
“I think America needs to look in the mirror and say: ‘Why, why this divisiveness? Why is there so much anger? Why can’t we agree to disagree? Why can’t we do that anymore?’ ” he said.
“And I’m going to look in the mirror myself. I’m going to look in the mirror (and ask), ‘Am I pushing that agenda of just yelling at each other?’ ”
All four members of the Kansas congressional delegation who don’t play on the baseball team offered their moral support through the day.
“Praying for everyone’s safety & recovery,” tweeted Sen. Pat Roberts.
Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement that he was “shocked and saddened” by the shooting and “praying for all impacted.”
“Today and every day I am thankful for the efforts of the United States Capitol Police and all who work to keep those who serve in Congress and our staff safe,” he said.
Rep. Ron Estes of Wichita, who represents the 4th District, also lauded the Capitol Police and asked for thoughts and prayers for the victims. In a statement, Estes called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”
Rep. Lynn Jenkins issued a statement saying, “Thank you to our first responders for securing the area and keeping others safe.”
Contributing: Lindsay Wise of the McClatchy Washington Bureau