US congressman gunned down at baseball practice in critical condition after third surgery

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 8:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 10:42pm

US congressman Steve Scalise underwent a third operation and was in critical condition on Thursday, a source familiar with his condition said, a day after a man who had expressed anger towards President Donald Trump opened fire on Republican lawmakers at a baseball practice.

Trump on Thursday reiterated his call for unity in the aftermath of the shooting in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. But Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, criticised some Republicans who have blamed the shooting on vitriol from the political left.

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Scalise, a congressman from Louisiana who is the No. 3 House Republican, suffered injuries to internal organs, broken bones and severe bleeding after being shot in the left hip on a baseball field where he and other lawmakers were practising for a charity baseball game.

The game pitting Republican lawmakers against their Democratic colleagues took place at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team, with thousands of spectators turning up.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Scalise remained in critical condition on Thursday after the latest surgery. Vice President Mike Pence earlier on Thursday said he visited MedStar Washington Hospital Centre, where Scalise was being treated.

Scalise, 51, and three others were wounded when a man identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, from the St Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, opened fire on the lawmakers.

The others wounded were a police officer, a congressional aide and a lobbyist.

Hodgkinson, who had a history of posting angry messages against Trump and other Republicans on social media, died after being wounded by police.

The US Capitol Police said Hodgkinson used a 9mm handgun and a 7.62-calibre rifle in the shooting, and traces run by investigators showed he evidently acquired the weapons legally.

“Both were purchased by the shooter from federal firearms licensees,” the Capitol Police said in a statement. “We currently have no evidence to suggest that the purchases were not lawful.”

The FBI recovered a mobile phone, computer and camera from Hodgkinson’s van and was examining them for evidence, the statement said.

Trump, who visited Scalise at hospital on Wednesday, said the congressman was “in some trouble but he’s going to be okay, we hope”.

Gunman opens fire on Republican lawmakers at baseball practice, top US congressman Steve Scalise wounded

“It’s been much more difficult than people even thought at the time,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday, adding he also visited the wounded Capitol Police officer at the hospital.

Trump spoke of potential political healing, saying: “Steve, in his own way, may have brought some unity to our long-divided country.”

The president, whose administration has been dogged by allegations of ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia, later wrote two tweets suggesting that Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in last November’s election, should be under investigation instead of him.

The shooting has raised questions about lawmakers’ security, renewed the nation’s contentious debate over guns and drawn new attention to the harsh rhetoric that reflects America’s political polarisation.

Many lawmakers in both parties, as well as the president, called for unity after the shooting. But Pelosi bristled at comments made by a few Republicans and conservative activists who blamed heated Democratic rhetoric for the incident.

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“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. How dare they say such a thing,” Pelosi said.

She said Republican vitriol and caricatures of her had resulted in “calls to my home constantly, threats in front of my family, really predicated on their comments and their paid ads”.

Pelosi also cited past remarks by Trump, saying: “You have a president who says: ‘I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and nobody would care.’”

She did not specify which comments by Republicans she objected to.

Among others, Republican Representative Steve King wrote on Twitter that “violence is incited by the leading cultural voices of the Left” and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cited an “increasing hostility on the left”.