- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2017

As lawmakers search for a new tone in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats eyed President Trump as a necessary part of the solution Thursday, saying he has the power — and even the duty — to lead a change in the conversation.

Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Trump was “partially” to blame for the hostile rhetoric that has consumed politics since the 2016 election, and which many analysts said helped set the stage for this week’s horrific baseball field attack on GOP lawmakers.

“I would argue the president has unleashed, partially — again, not in any way totally — but partially to blame for the demons that have been unleashed,” Mr. Sanford said on MSNBC.

Rep. Joseph Crowley, who, as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is one of the party’s chief message-makers, also looked to Mr. Trump for reasons the political debate has become venomous.

“I think much of that tone is set by the president himself and the actions that he’s taken,” the New York Democrat said on CNN.

He quickly said, however, that his criticism shouldn’t be taken to be an attack on the president personally.

“My constituency does feel under duress right now by the president’s actions, and so what I’m speaking of is his actions,” he explained. “I’m not attacking the person of the president but the policies or the actions that he’s taking.”

The balance Mr. Crowley tried to strike is emblematic of the challenge faced by members of Congress. They represent a deeply divided country with fiercely held views and a tendency to look at the other side as “what has gone wrong” in national politics.

Meanwhile, GOP House Whip Steve Scalise faces a “much more difficult” struggle to recover from his gunshot wound than first thought, Mr. Trump said Thursday. The House lurched back to business in a somber mood as law enforcement tracked the path the shooter traveled to his ballfield carnage.

Investigators studying Wednesday’s attack at a suburban Virginia park said shooter James T. Hodgkinson had obtained his rifle and handgun from licensed firearms dealers. Capitol Police said they had “no evidence to suggest that the purchases were not lawful.”

Hodgkinson, a Belleville, Illinois, home inspector who had been living out of his van near the park, had a social media page filled with criticism of Republicans and the Trump administration. He died after officers in Scalise’s security detail fired back at him.

The FBI said it was investigating the shooter’s “activities and social media impressions in the months leading up to yesterday’s incident.” Authorities also were going over a cellphone, computer and camera taken from Hodgkinson’s white van, which was parked near the ball field.

Colleagues who visited Scalise at a Washington hospital sounded generally upbeat — but spoke more in terms of hopes than the confident predictions of the immediate aftermath a day earlier.

Democrat Cedric Richmond, a fellow Louisiana congressman, said as many others did that Mr. Scalise is a fighter. “I’m prayerful he will pull through, and I hope he does,” he said.

The White House said Mr. Trump is doing his part to calm things and is heeding his own call for unity after this week’s attack. Deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders also said Mr. Trump has been making that point to Democrats.

“I think that should go both ways,” Ms. Sanders said.

After being praised for his tone in the speech, the president Thursday morning went on offense. He called the news coverage of the special counsel’s Russia investigation a “witch hunt” that was “led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

“There’s been quite a bit of attacking against the president,” Ms. Sanders said. “I think he was responding to those specific accusations. As a whole, our country could bring the tone down a little bit. I think that’s the goal the president laid out yesterday, and hopefully we can all be reasonable.”

Anger at Mr. Trump has boiled over in town hall meetings held by Republicans this year.

Mr. Sanford said he’s never seen anything like it during his time in politics.

“I was at a town hall meeting — it was at a senior center, at a retirement center — and what took place in terms of what people were saying to each other was like out of a movie, and so we’ve got to find a way to dial this back,” he said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Chase Jennings said blaming Mr. Trump for being part of the cause of the shooting was wrongheaded.

“The shooter and the shooter alone is to blame for this horrible crime,” Mr. Jennings said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Republicans were being “sanctimonious” about the causes of the shooting, and demanded they accept part of the blame.

“This sick individual does something despicable, and it was horrible what he did … but for them to all of a sudden be sanctimonious, as if they’d never seen such a thing before — I don’t even want to go into the president of the United States and some of the language he’s used,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

One Republican acknowledged his own contribution to inflaming the political debate in the aftermath of the shooting. Rep. Chris Collins of New York apologized for his remarks Wednesday blaming Democrats for the attack.

“I think, in that emotion, I did lash out, and it would certainly appear this anger is certainly tied to the rhetoric going on. I did say what I said, that I was putting the blame on the Democrats’ doorstep. When the emotion of that instance wore off, I looked in the mirror and said that’s not the right tone,” Mr. Collins said on CNN.

“I’m willing to admit that was wrong for me to say,” he explained. “And I, myself, am going to try to tone down the rhetoric.”

• This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

• Sally Persons can be reached at spersons@washingtontimes.com.

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