Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Omaha World Herald: Nebraska Congressional Delegation Expresses Shock, Offers Prayers After Shooting at Ballfield

Jun 15, 2017
In The News

WASHINGTON — Wednesday morning’s shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice rattled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and prompted many to decry an increasingly toxic political discourse.

Members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation trickled into their weekly breakfast with constituents just as news of the shooting was breaking.

Reflecting on a then-developing situation, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., told the audience that “awful stuff” is regularly directed at him and other members of the delegation — a stream of vitriol he indicated comes with having a free and open society.

“But when it spills over into deliberate violence against persons, it’s just wrong,” Fortenberry said. “It tears at the heart of who we are as a country.”

All lawmakers representing Nebraska and western Iowa expressed their sympathy for those affected by the shooting while offering praise and gratitude for the Capitol Police — particularly those officers who were at the practice as part of the security detail for Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the top Republicans in the House. The quick response of those officers was widely credited with preventing the situation from descending into a bloodbath.

No Iowa or Nebraska lawmakers were participating in this year’s game, so they were not at the practice when the shooting occurred.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, went to the scene afterward, however, according to the Washington Post. The controversy-prone congressman suggested that the incident could be traced to rhetoric coming from the other side of the political spectrum.

“The center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left,” the newspaper quoted King saying.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had a different take. He said, in contrast to contentious town halls going back to 2009, his recent events have been quiet, with people being “nice in how they ask their questions and approach issues.”

Wednesday’s shooting is certain to spark discussions about congressional security measures. Several Nebraska and Iowa lawmakers declined to say much on security matters, in part because of guidance from Capitol Hill police.

“There’s no doubt we are all concerned,” Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said in a statement. “I’ve never seen so much inflammatory rhetoric based on misinformation as we’ve experienced in recent months. It elicits emotional responses and can lead to, as in this case, destructive actions.”

He said a wise, measured reaction is needed because members of Congress must be accessible to those they represent.

For his part, Grassley said that the best way to reach constituents is through open town halls and that he will continue to hold them.

“Otherwise I better get out of politics,” Grassley said.

He also didn’t sound interested in having an armed entourage. “It would be awful if every time I wanted to go to the airport I had two people accompany me.”

Still, word of the shooting unsettled many members.

Smith, who used to play in the annual charity game, opened Wednesday’s breakfast by informing the audience about the shooting and pleading for understanding if members seemed rattled. “I’m kind of shaken by it.”

The shooting also prompted Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., to reissue his recent call on the House floor for more civility. “I fear we are pulling apart. The left and right should not hate each other.”

Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, said he was “horrified and stunned” when he heard the news on his way to the office.

Young praised the speeches by Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“It’s a reminder about a lot of the tone out there on both sides of the aisle — the rhetoric that’s out there and how it’s just not constructive and it can just go too far with some people,” Young said. “It’s so important still to make sure that you are accessible to those you represent and this cannot scare us.”

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