President Donald Trump’s first test of leadership at a time when a brazen act of political violence shocked the nation was bound to come.
From both sides of America’s partisan divide, the president’s handling of the shooting of a Republican congressman and several others has earned him respect, some of it grudging.
Trump delivered a call for unity just a few hours after a heavily armed gunman fired on members of Congress at a sports field where they were practicing for a charity baseball game.
WATCH: President Trump’s Statement to Nation
The attack sent shockwaves of outrage across the political spectrum, but the president spoke in measured tones and made no mention of America’s highly charged political atmosphere:
“We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said in a four-minute address, televised across the nation.
Speaking from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, he said: “We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
Trump praised the heroism of U.S. Capitol Police officers at the scene of the shooting, two of whom were injured. Many lives could have been lost, he said, had they not brought down the gunman, “despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault.”
The gunman was seriously wounded on the baseball field and died at a hospital.
In an earlier statement and a Twitter post, Trump said he was deeply saddened by the tragic incident, and noted his “thoughts and prayers” went out to “members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol police, first responders and all others affected.”
Republicans praised Trump’s steady response, and so did some Democrats. The Politico website quoted veteran Democratic operative Jim Manley as saying: “It looks like Trump and his team took this shooting seriously and acted accordingly. His statement was measured and respectful and hit all the right notes when he issued a call for unity.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a vocal Trump critic, had kind words on this occasion. “I pray for Donald Trump, that his presidency will be successful and that his family will be safe,” Pelosi said. “Because it is about family.”
WATCH: Pelosi Sends Prayers to Scalise
Picking a moment
Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Congress, observed there are moments when a president must use the “bully pulpit” of his office to provide solace to a shocked or grieving nation.
“We expect the president to serve as a national voice and consoler-in-chief when there is a moment of national tragedy,” Mahaffee said.
Mahaffee called Wednesday’s gun attack an important moment for presidential leadership, at a time when American political partisanship seems to be at a fever pitch.
“By all accounts, this is violence provoked by political disagreement, and reflecting our concerns about what the tenor of politics has become in our country with the tribal divides between Republicans and Democrats,” Mahaffee said. “We are seeing an inability to reach common ground, not only among our representatives, but increasingly as a society. We’ve begun to see people from the other party as opponents rather than Americans.”
The leaders of the Republican and Democratic baseball teams held an unusually warm bipartisan news conference Wednesday to announce that the shooting incident would not disrupt Thursday night’s baseball game, which annually raises tens of thousands of dollars for charity.
WATCH: Game On, Team Leaders Say
A few members of Congress have suggested that Trump ought to attend the game as a gesture of support.
However, a White House official told VOA that Trump’s attendance is unlikely, since “for logistical security reasons it would be impossible to organize.”
The game will be televised on a public network (C-SPAN).
VOA’s Steve Herman contributed to this report.
In Photos: Shooting at the Baseball Field