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GOP Baseball Practice Shooting: Senator Says He Saw Gunman Behind Backstop

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A baseball diamond in Alexandria, Va., was a regular destination for Republican members of Congress. They'd held baseball practice there for years before work.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And they were preparing for tomorrow's congressional baseball game against a team of Democrats when a gunman opened fire. Senator Jeff Flake describes a colleague, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, being shot and going down as he stood at second base. Scalise was then caught in the open as others dove for a dugout.

INSKEEP: According to Flake, five people were wounded as the man fired far, far more than 50 shots.

JEFF FLAKE: I got a look at the gunman behind the backstop, and he had a line of sight into our dugout. And I feared he was going to start firing into the dugout. So we - we finally got a - somebody said that the gunman was down. And that's when I ran out to Steve and applied pressure on the wound.

INSKEEP: You applied pressure on the wound because he was bleeding profusely, I would assume.

FLAKE: Yes, yes - quite a bit.

INSKEEP: Steve Scalise was later taken to a hospital. There is a statement from his office saying that he is expected to fully recover. But again, one of five people shot by the gunman who was then himself shot, according to Senator Flake and other witnesses, by police who were on the scene, including Congressman Scalise's security detail. A number of the other lawmakers did not have security details. It was something of a matter of chance that Congressman Scalise happened to be at practice that day and, therefore, armed men were there to protect him.

At the scene now in Alexandria, Va., is NPR's Geoff Bennett. Geoff, where are you, and what have you been able to see?

GOEFF BENNETT, BYLINE: I'm about two blocks from the baseball diamond. The police have blocked this entire street, Monroe Avenue here in Alexandria. And they've set up a cordoned-off area for media. We expect to get a full press conference shortly about what transpired here. But, I mean, you laid out in great detail the frightening scene.

The baseball team was comprised - or is comprised mainly of members of the House. But there are two members of the Senate who are on that team, Jeff Flake and Rand Paul. And they were really turned into witnesses, as - you know, recounting what happened. Staffers, members of the team diving behind, you know, plastic in the batting cages. Scalise was described as having to drag himself some 10 to 15 yards, you know, by his arms, away from the shooter. So yeah, a really harrowing scene here.

I spoke with a guy who lives across the street, and he had thought that the CVS across the street was being robbed - had no idea about what was actually transpiring.

INSKEEP: You realize from Senator Flake's description, which we heard in full earlier this morning, how even if you're mentally prepared for this, you're not mentally prepared for this. Senator Flake described a single gunshot, and he did not understand at first that it was a gunshot. It's not the first thing that you would imagine in a pleasant place like Alexandria, Va., that it would be a gunshot. It was not until there was a second shot and then many, many more that he fully understood what was going on.

BENNETT: That's right. And nothing about this neighborhood - I mean, these situations are never tied to, you know, sort of random street crime. But nothing about this neighborhood would suggest that something would happen like that. There's a YMCA next door, where you would imagine that, you know, young families and children were inside. So yeah, the scene definitely caught the members who were playing and all the neighbors here entirely off guard. And people aren't really sure what to make of it.

INSKEEP: Geoff Bennett, stay with us 'cause we're going to bring another voice into this conversation.

MARTIN: Yeah, we're going to bring in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's in the studio with us, to learn more about the senior member of Congress who was wounded. This is Steve Scalise who we've been talking about - not a name that's necessarily well-known across the country but very well-known in Washington, where House majority whip is a powerful position. What more can you tell us about him and his role in Congress?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: So he's the No. 3 person in Congress. He is the whip for the Republicans, which means it's his job to round up votes...

MARTIN: Whip the votes, yeah.

KEITH: ...And twist arms. And certainly, he was very much involved in the passage of the House health care bill recently. Scalise came to Congress in 2008. And before that, he served in the legislature in Louisiana. He became majority whip in 2014, when the majority leader lost in his primary. And it was sort of this surprise, and Scalise immediately started campaigning, building a campaign. He had these geaux Scalise shirts, G-E-A-U-X, because he's from Louisiana.

INSKEEP: Louisiana, of course.

MARTIN: I get it, yeah.

KEITH: It represents some of the suburbs of New Orleans. And he's well-liked among his colleagues. He's definitely conservative. He was part of the Republican Study Committee, which is a conservative group of lawmakers in the House.

INSKEEP: Also, eight or nine years in Congress and being the No. 3 member of the House - that's actually a fairly rapid rise for the House of Representatives.

KEITH: Yes - and a signal of his skill at sort of campaigning internally and also working well with his colleagues. Of course, being whip requires you to work well with your colleagues and know your colleagues well. Just some other congressional news - they basically are canceling everything today. Everything is off. Hearings...

MARTIN: All congressional business, yeah.

KEITH: ...Are canceled. Congressional business is off. This is a really shocking thing to happen.

MARTIN: Do we know if the game is supposed to go on tomorrow?

KEITH: No word yet on the game. But the baseball game is something that has been off and on since 1909. It's this long-standing tradition, Democrats versus Republicans out on the field. They take it very seriously. They play at the Nationals' ballpark, the big, professional baseball stadium - sell tickets for charity. And also it's seen as this opportunity for members of Congress who often don't spend a lot of time together to have a lot of time together bonding and making it, potentially, a more functional body.

INSKEEP: NPR's Geoff Bennett...

BENNETT: I understand...

INSKEEP: ...I want to circle back to you in Alexandria. Go ahead.

BENNETT: I was just going to say, to Tam's point, we understand that Democrats, who were also practicing in Washington, stopped to pray when they heard about what happened here.

INSKEEP: Can you help us understand a few of the unknowns as we await a press conference, Geoff Bennett? Is anything in particular known for certain about the gunman?

BENNETT: Nothing that we can - that we are comfortable reporting at this point. We do know that he is in custody. He was taken into custody alive. We are waiting to hear more about who this person is and then, you know, as the - in subsequent days, we can learn more about the motive.

INSKEEP: Tamara Keith, you just...

KEITH: Yeah. And just one other thing is that Steve Scalise is, according to a statement from his office, under surgery at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and he is in stable condition - spoke to his wife before going to surgery and was in good spirits, according to his team.

INSKEEP: And we should make some mention of the other wounded. We don't have identities. But is it correct that some may be police officers or security officers who were shot?

KEITH: Yeah. Geoff?

BENNETT: Two police officers, or two Capitol Police officers who were attached to the security detail; a staffer for Texas Congressman Roger Williams.

MARTIN: Geoff Bennett at the scene there and NPR's Tamara Keith, thank you so much for reporting this morning.

KEITH: You're welcome.

BENNETT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And we'll bring you more as we learn it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.