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Utah congressional leaders feeling 'heartbroken,' 'shaken,' 'vulnerable' after shooting

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Mia Love plans to take her spot at second base next week in the congressional women's charity softball game, but practice is up in the air after the shooting at a Virginia baseball field Wednesday injured one of her colleagues and four others.

And had a gunman set his sights on the women's team like he did the Republican men's baseball team, the congresswoman believes the outcome would have been even more tragic because none of the players have a security detail.

"I have no doubt that were it the women's softball team, we would have been taken out — all of us," said Love, R-Utah.

Reportedly distraught over the election of President Donald Trump, a man authorities identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, opened fire on members of the GOP congressional baseball team at a practice field in Alexandria. He peppered the diamond with rifle shots, hitting five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

Two members of Scalise’s Capitol police security detail — protection he is afforded as a member of House leadership — were wounded as they exchanged fire with the shooter. Hodgkinson later died.

"Unfortunately, Steve was shot," Love said. "But Steve being there literally saved the lives of all of those members."

Members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation were heartbroken, shaken and angry over the early morning shooting. None of them were at the field.

"These are friends of mine, and I’m heartbroken for them. I'm heartbroken for their families, and I’m frankly angry that we're in this situation," Rep. Chris Stewart said.

Hodgkinson had lashed out against Trump repeatedly on social media and has protested the gap between the rich and poor. He had also volunteered for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

"The tone of politics has just become so poisoned, and it’s become so visceral," Stewart said.

"I mean, is it OK to have a play in New York City where they depict the assassination of the president? Is it OK for comedians to hold up severed heads of the president? Is it OK for town hall meetings to turn into nothing but intimidation and threats as so many of them have?"

The congressman later issued a statement along the same lines and adding, "We must get back to respectful conversations and disagreements. And we need to make it clear that any hint of violence or intimidation is completely unacceptable."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has received a number of death threats in his nearly nine years in Congress, said the best he can tell the shooting was not a random act.

Love was more blunt: "I have no doubt they were targeting Republicans."

"A little shaken" is how Chaffetz described himself after learning about the violence while working out at the congressional gym.

"I think we all feel the threat, and you try to put a happy, stern face on it. But when somebody's actually pulling the trigger, it frightens you. How can it not?" he said.

Chaffetz said his office received dozens of calls immediately after the shooting blaming him because of his position on gun rights.

"That happened all morning," he said. "It's just sick."

Chaffetz, who is resigning at the end of the month and is widely expected to take a job with Fox News, said the threats against him were a factor in his decision to step down.

"You pay the price with so much vitriol. It shouldn't be that way. Unfortunately, it is," he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch said he's grateful for the Capitol police, including the security detail that works around the clock to keep him and his wife, Elaine, safe. As president pro tem of the Senate and third in line for presidency, Hatch has full-time security.


"I shudder to think what could have happened this morning were it not for the quick action taken by our Capitol police officers. Every day, these courageous men and women risk their own well-being to ensure the safety of others, and they do so with little fanfare or recognition," Hatch said in a statement.

None of the Utah delegation want all members of Congress to have their own security details, saying it's not practical or realistic.

"If we all become so overly obsessed with the concept of security, it does destroy the quality of life. So I hope we never have to come to that era in which you feel like everyone has to have some kind of detail around you," said Rep. Rob Bishop, who couldn't recall a time he felt threatened in Washington or at home.

Both Chaffetz and Love have installed extensive security systems at their houses at their own expense, and Chaffetz often hires off-duty police office for personal protection at public events.

"I am vulnerable. Other members of Congress are vulnerable," said Love who has also endured threats and people taking photos of her home and children. "And it's not just me. It's people on both sides of the aisle that at any given time, anything can happen to us."

Sen. Mike Lee said he could see Congress providing security at large public gatherings as a result of the shooting but doesn't favor much beyond that.

"Let's face it, most people don't know who most of us are; don't know and don't care," he said.

Love said she's not sure if the women's softball team would practice or whether security would be provided leading up to the June 21 game to raise money for women with breast cancer.

The congresswoman does plan to attend the men's baseball game Thursday wearing a T-shirt that Scalise has made for the annual charity event.

Love said the shooting has caused her to think about serving in Congress, but "you literally become a victim and you fail when you pack it up and go home."

"I think the best answer is to work hard, not be deterred. Do the work that you promised that you would do and say that I'm not controlled by this type of behavior, I'm not controlled by violence or terrorist activities," she said.

Like Stewart, Love lamented the state of the political environment where disagreement turns to violence. People need to "watch our language" and start talking about things that unite rather than divide, she said.

But Lee was hesitant to surmise what the shooting means in the context of the nation's political climate.

"I'm reluctant to say what it means beyond the fact that this guy was deranged, (and) there's something terribly wrong with him," he said. "I don't think this incident necessarily says anything in and of itself about the state of political discourse in America."

But, Lee said, the pain caused by the shooting can serve as sobering reminder that "we will never regret being civil, being kind, being respectful" to others without surrendering personal opinions or beliefs.

Bishop said it might be hard for people to understand, but members of Congress work with their colleagues on a policy level and on a personal level. Even if they disagree on policy, they might be friendly personally.

"This has touched everyone on that personal level," he said.

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Dennis Romboy


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