Members of Congress commit to civility after Alexandria shooting

Members of Congress recommitted to a pledge of civility Wednesday in the wake of the shooting at a practice for the GOP congressional baseball team in Alexandria last week.

The co-presidents of the freshman class of the 115th Congress — Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-California, Jack Bergman, R-Michigan, Val Demings, D-Florida and Donald McEachin, D-Virginia — hosted the signing with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, in an effort to rededicate to respect and civility across party lines.

“We are dedicated to showing proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue and modeling civility in our public and private actions,” the “Commitment to Civility” says. “While we may vehemently disagree on matters of law and policy, we will strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of our office.”

Many members of Congress attended the news conference or stopped by in order to add their names to the pledge, which was first introduced and signed by nearly the entire freshman class in January. The recommitment comes in conjunction the “summer of civility,” a new initiative from the BPC.

As part of the “summer of civility,” launched in response to last week’s shooting, the organization is asking members of Congress to share videos describing actions they have taken or are planning to take to demonstrate their commitment to civility. The organization is also calling for July 4 to be a day of respect and positive messages, BPC senior vice president Michele Stockwell said.

The center is also launching the American Congressional Exchange — an opportunity for representatives to visit one another’s districts to better understand the constituencies and needs of those whom their colleagues represent, she added.

Rep. Mike Johnson, who wrote the text of the pledge, said the idea came following the first meeting of the freshman class of the 115th Congress at a retreat in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

“We all sat around a U-shaped table and shared our hearts together and what we found [was that] there was a common commitment among us that we wanted to do Congress a different way,” Johnson said. “We wanted to change the tone in Washington and we lamented that there’s this sort of vitriol in the culture and it’s been fueled really too often by vitriol in our politics and our public discourse.”

Barragan, who plays for the congressional baseball team, was on the field practicing when she heard the news of the shooting at the GOP baseball practice. When she heard the news, she said she didn’t think of it as her “Republican colleagues” but as “one of us.”

“The bottom line is, we need to learn how to disagree better,” Barragán said.

Demings, who praised the diversity and uniqueness of the freshman class, added that “solving problems start with respecting each other.”

The recommitment also comes following sentiments among the American public that civility is worsening in political discourse; according to a new poll taken after the shooting, 68% of Americans believe tone and civility in politics are getting worse.

“Part of this discussion really needs to be about our constituents, whether they voted for us or not, sometimes our constituents need to help us dial it back,” McEachin added.

Members of Congress also wore stickers depicting a purple and yellow fleur de lis in honor of Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who remains in fair condition after being shot in the hip at the baseball practice last week.

Johnson added that when the group first approached congressional leadership to pitch the idea for the civility pledge, Scalise “loved” the idea and was one of its biggest supporters.

Ultimately, BPC Senior Vice President G. William Hoagland noted, aggressive partisanship is expected and welcomed in a democracy, but concurrent with the need to recognize and continue to strive for civility.

“It should not take such tragedies to restore needed respect for all individuals, regardless of party affiliation,” he said.