WASHINGTON – Six weeks ago, with House Republicans barely winning a bitterly fought vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Democrats stood in the ornate Capitol chamber and derisively serenaded their counterparts.
“Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey! Goodbye!” they sang, implying the vote would be the Republicans downfall.
Thursday night, with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise hospitalized in critical condition, Democrat and Republican members of Congress stood together, ardently singing the National Anthem, then God Bless America.
The occasion was the annual congressional baseball charity game between the Democrats and Republicans at Nationals Park, a day after and a short distance from the practice field in Arlington, Virginia, where Scalise and four others were struck by a gunman’s raining bullets.
The teams also knelt in prayer at second base while the crowd chanted, “USA.” Players cheered and waved their caps when Scalise’s name boomed over the public address system during team introductions.
Political bitterness gave way to personal bonding in response to the tragedy that shocked the nation’s capital. Players and thousands of spectators united over America’s past-time and the sorrow of the sniper shootings. A baseball game, with deep roots back to 1909, became a patriotic symbol of bipartisan hope and unity.
“We’re not going to let incidents like this change our way of life or our daily routine,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., coach of the Dmocrats. “We’re going to go ahead and play the ball game.”
Ticket purchases for the game, which usually number a few thousand, skyrocketed to 500 an hour, reaching 20,000 as word of the shooting spread, according to the newspaper Roll Call. Money from the event goes to the Washington Literary Center and the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.
This has been a year of handmade signs by protest marchers filling the streets of Washington on weekends. But for this event and this moment of national outcry against violence, Amanda Clinton, of Woodbridge, Va., made a sign calling for solidarity: “This Democrat is here to support Congressman Scalise. Get Well Soon, Sir.”
“I don’t know much about the congressman and I probably disagree with his positions, but I thought I should show support,” she said. “Just because I disagree with him doesn’t mean I can’t be a compassionate human being.”
For the players, the game was a step back toward normalcy -- “just the guys being together, telling lies in the dugout,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., before the first pitch.
He was among the Republican team at the practice field who took cover in a dugout as police exchanged fire with the gunman, James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., killing him.
Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., was at another event and said those who were there had a hard time sleeping that night. “It’s cathartic, getting beyond yesterday,” he said.
Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., heading out to take pregame grounders at shortsop, said when he plays baseball he can stop thinking about what’s going on in his life for a couple of hours, “but my mind is definitely on the five individuals” injured by the shooter.
He told Time magazine he didn’t go to the practice because he missed his ride to the practice field by five minutes. He would have been standing near where Scalise was standing when he was shot.
He said he didn’t know if the spirit of congressional harmony evidenced at the game would stick, but he hoped political discord would calm down. “We’d all do well to temper things a little bit,” said Costello.
Sitting in the box seats on the GOP right field side, Lucus Bendza, of Terre Haute, Indiana, wearing a white Trump t-shirt, appreciated the spirit of bipartisanship. But he said it is still baseball, and he’d cheer more loudly for the Republican team, adding: “It’s still good to have bragging rights.”
The Democrats’ team and its loyalists sat on the left side of the field in keeping with the political right-left tradition. They had much to cheer about their play on the field, winning the game, 11-2.
Contact CNHI Washington reporter Kery Murakami at firstname.lastname@example.org.