05/16/2018

The 9 Minutes That Almost Changed America

Kate Nocera and Lissandra Villa, BuzzFeed News

Roger Williams cannot enjoy fireworks on the Fourth of July anymore. The 68-year-old Texan is a longtime NRA member, but these days, he can’t hunt. Once, during a congressional committee hearing, the chairman banged a gavel — clap — on the desk, and Williams fell out of his seat.

It’s been almost a year since Williams and nearly two dozen of his Republican colleagues were shot at as they were wrapping up baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 14, 2017. Williams started the congressional baseball caucus and began coaching the team a few years ago. He’s a standard conservative Republican with a toothy politician’s grin, which he can still flash on command.

He thinks about that morning almost every day. They were practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game, one of those cheerful bipartisan events that's becoming extinct in Washington. It's an annual game, held for charity, where Democrats play Republicans, staffers come out to cheer on their bosses, and everyone shakes hands at the end, reporters and lobbyists looking on.

Waking up predawn to go to baseball practice is a welcome distraction for the Republicans who play — a few hours without the news cycle, or whatever President Trump is doing, or questions about whether they’ll keep control of Congress. Here, Steve Scalise isn't seen as a potential replacement for Paul Ryan; he's the second baseman. Jeff Flake isn't the voice of anti-Trump conservatism; he's a center fielder. Jeff Duncan isn't the Freedom Caucus member and Trump booster from South Carolina; he’s at short.

So Williams thinks about how the team was in shape and feeling good (at least as good as it was going to get). He thinks about how the pitchers weren’t there — he had ordered them to rest their arms — and how they had Republican staffers who’d volunteered to help the team filling in. He thinks about how everyone else was taking their final at-bats and picking up balls, getting ready to head back into Washington. He thinks about what could have gone unfathomably wrong, if everything had not gone exactly right.

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