U.S. Rep. Joe Barton says the name-calling needs to stop.
It’s OK to disagree, but after surviving Wednesday morning’s shooting at a Republican congressional baseball team’s practice, he said it’s clear that government leaders need to change the way they play politics.
“I think we need to refocus what we do in Washington,” Barton, R-Ennis, told reporters Friday afternoon when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. “We need to emphasize the start of our title, which is United States Representative and stop focusing on what’s after our name, which is R or D.
“We can debate ... without letting it generate into name-calling,” he said. “And I’m going to do that.”
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Five people were injured: U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who remains in critical condition; Zack Barth, a congressional staffer for U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin; Matt Mika, a lobbyist and former congressional staffer; and two police officers. Williams, the GOP team’s coach, injured his ankle diving into the third-base dugout to avoid being shot.
The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, was shot and later died at the hospital.
“As an elected member of Congress, it brings home for me that when there are angry people in the country, they take their anger out on the government.,” Barton said. “A lot of people view the government as the Congress or as the president. This particular gunman appeared to be more upset with the president than the House of Representatives.”
The solution, he said, is not taking people’s guns away, because they have a Second Amendment right to have them.
And the solution isn’t to put all members of Congress under heavy security detail.
“You can’t do your job if you’re not out among the people,” said Barton, whose district includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. “You cannot be a congressman and move around in a Secret Service cocoon.
“Democracy won’t work if people like myself are not available to people at town halls, civic functions, political functions and parades. You just have to take common sense precautions,” he said. “But I do not want to hide behind ... SWAT team people. I don’t think that’s what democracy is about.”
‘We were being shot at’
It was about 7 a.m. Wednesday and the Republican baseball team was well into the beginning of their practice when a gunman started shooting at members on the field.
Barton, manager of the team, said he had been at the batting cages with his sons — Brad and Jack — before he decided to go back to watch practice so he could figure out who would be the leadoff hitter.
He was standing near the on-deck circle by first base when the first shot rang out. He wasn’t sure what it was and a few seconds later, more shots fired.
“Everyone realized we were being shot at,” he said.
Congress members and staffers sought cover, most making it to the first- and third-base dugouts, hiding there or under vehicles or behind trees.
Barton said he saw his youngest son, 10-year-old Jack, run toward him and then toward the gate, trying to get to a nearby SUV.
He ducked behind the side of the dugout and when he saw that Jack wasn’t able to get into the vehicle, he told him to get under it. The boy did.
Barton’s oldest son, Brad, dropped to the ground on the field and called his wife. He got her voicemail and left a message he said lasted about 2 1/2 minutes. During that time, he said his wife counted 36 shots that were fired.
‘The American people won’
After about 10 minutes of gunfire, first by the shooter and then by peace officers, it grew quiet.
Barton said he got out from behind the edge of the dugout and Jack came out from under the SUV about the same time. They both ran to get inside the dugout.
“When I got into the dugout, I couldn’t find Jack,” Barton said. “I said, ‘Where’s Jack? Where’s Jack?’ The members already in the dugout had put him under the bench and had put their bodies [over him] to protect him.”
Barton teared up at the memory, adding that on Friday he feels “blessed to be able to be here to have a press conference” and have both sons with him.
Barton said he’s glad the Congressional Baseball Game was still played Thursday night, despite the shooting — even if the Democrats did win 11-2.
They raised about $1.5 million for charity.
More important than that, he said, they sent a powerful message.
“I think the American people won,” Barton said. “We showed that the Congress who represent the people will continue and not be intimidated.”