The shocking news that a gunman opened fire on a baseball practice for Republican members of Congress reverberated across Washington, the nation and the world in the early morning hours Wednesday.
Short of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and its threat to the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, it is hard to recall a time in our recent history when a large group of elected officials were targeted for assassination.
There will be time for the deceased shooter’s motive to be determined, and questions of political motivation have been asked.
We are all awestruck by the bravery and skill of U.S. Capitol Police officers, who happened to be at the practice only because they were assigned to protect House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was wounded in the attack. Eyewitness Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, told CNN that “no one would have survived without the Capitol Police. … It was a massacre without them.”
Those who have never worked on Capitol Hill may be under the impression that members of the House and Senate have round-the-clock security. They don’t. When they are inside the Capitol, they are protected. Indeed, the Capitol is one of the most secure buildings in our country.
But when they step outside the Capitol, they are on their own.
The advantage to this type of freedom is that lawmakers can interact with wide variety of people, dealing directly with their constituents when they are in their districts. To represent people, you have to be available to receive feedback, hear concerns, answer questions and take criticism.
But perhaps now is a responsible time to re-evaluate the situation.
I worked as a press secretary for two U.S. senators from 2005 to 2009, and during that time one of my bosses had a stalker. Until that situation was resolved, this elected official had Capitol Police present everywhere, including outside the Capitol.
The only members of Congress who have security are those in leadership in both houses, which amounts to a handful of members. Surely, this type of security is expensive. It is, at some level, unnecessary. Most members of Congress have never had a serious, credible threat issued against them.
But many of us remember the assassination attempt on former Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson in January 2011. The Arizona Democrat survived being shot in the head in that attack, when six people were killed.
A 2011 Congressional Research Service report lists nine members of Congress who have been shot and 24 members of Congress who have been attacked since 1789.
Certainly, these occurrences are rare, but isn’t the security of our elected officials a national priority?
Members of Congress should immediately re-evaluate the security procedures that they use in their offices, especially back in their districts and states.
One bright spot from this terrible incident was the stirring moment of national unity offered by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Members were in the House chamber gave both sides a standing ovation after the two addressed their colleagues.
We need more of this.
The best thing that I saw someone say in the aftermath of the shooting was from Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, the manager of the Democratic baseball team, who observed, “It shouldn’t take an incident like this to bring us together.”
“I have been reflecting a lot lately on how we can still maintain our principles and our legislative agendas, but we can do it in a more civil way,” Mr. Doyle continued. “And when the leadership of this country is civil to one another, maybe the public will start being civil towards one another too.”
This is exactly right — we can disagree without being disagreeable. We can oppose a person’s policy views without demonizing the person. Advocating violence against a public official is never acceptable.
In politics, our nation has gravitated toward shocking speech and commentary, and social media has made sharing such content easier than ever.
If one by-product of this shooting is that it brings our country together and strengthens the patriotism of our elected officials, then that will be a very good thing.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.
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