UPDATE: White House to cheer on congressional baseball players

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the annual congressional baseball game (all times local):

Players practicing on June 7, 2018 — Photo: The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity

3:50 p.m.

The White House plans to cheer on members of Congress at their annual baseball game Thursday night — a year after some Republican players and others were wounded in a shooting spree at a team practice in Virginia.

Presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says "those injured have fought hard for this moment and we will proudly be cheering them on." Sanders says she's heard "the Republican team looks pretty good in practice and they are headed for victory."

The game at Nationals Park falls exactly one year after a gunman opened fire at the Republicans' practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Among those wounded was the third-ranking House GOP leader, Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise (skuh-LEES').

He's expected to start at second base.

Members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet plan to attend the game.

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9:45 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is recalling the morning one year ago when one of his top colleagues, Steve Scalise, was shot during a baseball practice in Virginia.

Ryan tells a group of Hispanic leaders that days like that make you think about what truly matters in life.

The Wisconsin Republican says he was on the telephone with Scalise's wife one year ago at the same time as Thursday's National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast.

Ryan says he didn't know how bad the injuries were from the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. Ryan says he learned that Scalise — a Louisiana congressman who's the No. 3 House Republican leader — had no blood pressure and no pulse when he was taken out of a helicopter at a Washington hospital.

Ryan says he remembers people across the country letting him know they were praying for Scalise.

Ryan says those prayers worked "because we have our friend Steve Scalise back at work and those prayers have been answered."

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8:10 a.m.

Look for Steve Scalise to be wearing a U.S. Capitol Police ball cap at Thursday night's annual congressional baseball game.

The cap is in honor of the two officers who returned fire after the Republican congressman from Louisiana and four others were shot at a GOP practice a year ago in Alexandria, Virginia.

Scalise was gravely wounded from the shooting. He's had nine surgeries and still walks with crutches or a cane.

The third-ranking House Republican leader tells Fox News said that while he still has physical limitations, he'll be starting at second base for the game at National Park.

The 52-year-old lawmaker jokes that "tells you how bad the talent level is." He says he "can field balls and still make the throw at first."

Scalise says President Donald Trump called him Wednesday to wish him well.

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In the year since House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others were shot at a congressional baseball practice, mass shootings have occurred at a Texas church, a Las Vegas music festival and high schools in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas.

Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a doctor who helped save Scalise's life last June, has watched those attacks unfold with the acute sensitivity of a mass shooting survivor. Each shooting is jarring, says Wenstrup — he calls the Parkland shooting in particular sickening — but his views on gun control have not changed.

"If not for a gun — two guns really — being used on our side" by two Capitol Police officers at the GOP practice, "you might have seen 20 dead people," Wenstrup says. "That tells you where I'm coming from."

That sentiment is widespread among Republicans, who say the attack has only strengthened their commitment to protecting gun rights. The attack one year ago gives special weight to the annual game Thursday night at Nationals Park, where Republicans and Democrats are gathering for the competition that dates to 1909.

Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, who is coaching the Republican team, said he personally asked President Donald Trump to attend the game, and Trump replied that he'd be there. Williams said he didn't know if Trump was actually attending, and the White House wasn't saying late Wednesday.

Scalise, of Louisiana, suffered life-threatening injuries in the June 2017 shooting but returned to work last fall. He said the shooting "deepened my appreciation for the Second Amendment because it was people with guns who saved my life and every other member out there."

If Capitol Police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner had not been there with guns to counter the shooter, "then there would have been nobody to take him down and he would have just been able to come and pick us apart," Scalise said in a brief interview this week.

As he and other lawmakers prepare for the annual congressional baseball game at Nationals Park on Thursday night — the anniversary of the shooting — Scalise said he's comfortable with the actions Congress has taken on gun safety, including measures to strengthen the federal background check system for gun purchases and improve school safety.

Scalise said he sees no need to go further.

"Taking away the rights of law-abiding citizens is not the answer. Again, it was law-abiding citizens with guns that saved my life and many others," he said.

Wenstrup, a former Army combat surgeon in Iraq, says he wants to approach gun violence as a health care issue, particularly mental health.

"We need to address homicide in America and what's driving it, and certainly gun violence is a part of that," he said in an interview. "I think every school, every place where people gather, has to take a look at their security."

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who was on the field during the shooting, said it reinforced his view that officials need to combat violence in all forms, whether it is someone with a gun, knife or bomb.

"Many times it's mental illness," Fleischmann said, adding that the FBI told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that the gunman was intent on "suicide by cop."

"Unfortunately, he targeted us," Fleischmann said of the gunman, who was killed in a shootout with police.

Williams said the shooting "changed everybody's life," including his. He sprained his ankle trying to get away from the shooter, and his aide Zack Barth was among those wounded.

"It just reminded me that God's in control and how fleeting life is," Williams said. "And what's important and what's not important. And how divided our country is politically, when somebody would do that."

Williams said he relates to what the mass shooting victims in Las Vegas and elsewhere are feeling.

"I won't lose that sound in my mind" of bullets flying from pine trees near the field, he said. "You don't forget it. ... I'm a Second Amendment guy. I'm a lifetime member of the NRA. I'm a Texan, and I grew up with guns."

The shooting "doesn't change my mind. It just reminds me how important it is to reach out to those that would wake up thinking, 'I'm going to kill somebody,'" Williams said.

But there was at least one lawmaker on the field that day who said the Alexandria shooting has affected the way he thinks about gun policy.

"It's moved me," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who is retiring after this year. He said he now supports restrictions on high-capacity magazines, for instance, "but that hasn't come up" in debate. Still, "there's been a shift" for him personally, he said.

Meanwhile, Scalise, who has been walking with crutches or a cane, said he's eager to reclaim his position as starting second baseman.

"Being able to walk out onto that field again on Thursday night with my uniform is going to be a special, special moment," he told Fox News Channel this week.

The GOP team held an initial practice this year at the field in Alexandria, Virginia, where the shooting occurred, but has since moved to a separate field in Washington with increased security.

The additional security "makes us feel great and more secure," Fleischmann said, "but I hope and pray we can get to a time and place where we can go to a ball field and feel safe again. That's the America I grew up in, and I hope we can get back to that."

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Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this story.



 
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