WASHINGTON — Police beefed up security around the U.S. Capitol and House leaders canceled votes Wednesday in the wake of the early-morning shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and four others at a Virginia baseball field.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said late Wednesday afternoon that the agency will continue to deploy "a robust and visible presence across the Capitol Complex, and monitor national and world events to provide the level of security required to protect the U.S. Capitol and Members of Congress." The Capitol Police stepped up security around the Capitol immediately after the shooting while leaving buildings in the complex open to the public.
Shortly before the House was scheduled to begin its 10 a.m. session, leaders announced that votes were being canceled for the day. Several committee hearings also were canceled or delayed, along with some previously scheduled press conferences.
House Democrats canceled a press conference that was to focus on their criticism of President Trump for his "ongoing failure to obtain the consent of Congress before accepting payments, benefits, or gifts from foreign states" in alleged violation of the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause.
One committee that did not cancel its activity for the day was the House Foreign Affairs panel, which went ahead with testimony from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about his department's 2018 budget request.
Scalise is the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, which meant that he had Capitol Police officers providing him with security as GOP members gathered in Alexandria, Va., to practice for the annual congressional baseball game, a bipartisan charity fundraising event in which Republicans and Democrats play against one another. Two Capitol Hill police officers were injured at the scene as they protected lawmakers and fired back at the gunman.
Both Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and Sen. Rank Paul, R-Ky., said on CNN that it would have been "a massacre" if the Capitol Police had not been there.
The Capitol Police officers were there specifically because of Scalise. House and Senate leaders have the protection of Capitol Police officers on a constant basis. Rank-and-file members don't get that same level of protection unless there have been threats made against them or there is some other cause for concern. The Capitol Police are responsible for protecting people in all the office buildings that make up the Capitol complex, not just the actual Capitol building. They also can travel with lawmakers to protect them when they are away from the Capitol complex.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an emotional speech on the House floor Wednesday, praised wounded Capitol Police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey and said that lawmakers are "awed by the tremendous bravery of the Capitol Police." He said he spoke to both officers after the shooting and conveyed lawmakers' gratitude.
"Without these two heroes ... many lives would have been lost," Ryan said, shortly after House members received a closed-door security briefing by the House sergeant-at-arms. The shooting is being investigated by a team of law enforcement agencies led by the FBI.
Verderosa said Griner was shot in the ankle and was in good condition at the hospital Wednesday afternoon and Bailey was treated and released after sustaining "a minor injury." A third officer, Henry Cabrera, was not injured in the shootout, the chief said.
"I want to commend Special Agents Crystal Griner, David Bailey, and Henry Cabrera for their heroic and appropriate response in protecting the Members and others today during their practice for the Congressional baseball game," Verderosa said in a statement. "The United States Capitol Police is dedicated to its mission to protect the U.S. Capitol, Members of Congress, staff and the visiting public, and today we saw how our officers’ extensive training and quick response saved lives."
Ryan said he was moved by a photo he saw of House Democrats gathering after the shooting to pray for Scalise and the other victims. Scalise was in critical condition Wednesday afternoon after undergoing surgery.
"We are united," Ryan said of the House. "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 ... For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family."
Ryan also said that "knowing Steve Scalise as we all do, he is likely really frustrated that he is not going to able to play in the baseball game." The game is still scheduled for Thursday night at the Washington Nationals stadium.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said lawmakers will go out on the field Thursday and "use this occasion as one that brings us together."
"On days like today, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans united in our hopes and prayers for the wounded," she said.
Senate leaders began their session Wednesday with prayers for Scalise, the Capitol Police officers who were wounded, and the other victims.
"I know the entire Senate will join me in echoing the sentiments of the president this morning," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor. "We are deeply saddened. We are concerned for all those injured. We will keep them in our prayers; we will continue to send them every wish for a quick and full recovery."
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was "absolutely shaken" by news of the shooting.
"This morning is the most sobering reminder of how thankful we should be for the service of the Capitol Police force who put their lives on the line day in, day out for us to be safe," Schumer said. "I could not be more grateful that Capitol Police were there at a time to prevent this attack from being any worse than it was."