WASHINGTON (Reuters) -As partisan standoffs in the U.S. Congress risk a government shutdown and debt default, lawmakers took a timeout on Wednesday for one of Washington’s few remaining bipartisan traditions: their annual baseball game.
The 2021 contest between the Democrats and Republicans, an event that typically raises over $1 million for charity, was played at Nationals Park, normally used by Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals.
The Republicans won, 13-12.
The tradition began in 1909, although last year’s game was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also delayed this year’s game until near the end of baseball season.
“This builds relationships, and creates a timeout from some of the harshest, I think, partisanship atmospheres I’ve seen in Congress. So I think in fact it’s probably needed now more than ever,” Republican Representative Kevin Brady, also a 66-year-old second baseman, said ahead of the game.
President Joe Biden showed up, arriving as his Democrats trailed in the second inning, and he received a mix of cheers from fans on the Democratic side of the ballpark and boos from the Republican side.
The game paused as Biden greeted players on the field and signed baseballs in the Democrats’ dugout. Meanwhile, with Biden’s signature legislative goals teetering without full Democratic support, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was busy working her cellphone, seated in the front row.
Biden later crossed over to greet the Republican players at their dugout.
While Biden was glad-handing his rivals, Republican Greg Steube recorded one of the more impressive feats of the night, hitting a home run over the left field fence. Steube was also the starting and winning pitcher, wearing a red “Save America” hat signed by Donald Trump.
The Republicans’ victory broke a recent string of Democratic dominance and gave them the historical edge as the two sides had entered the game with 42 wins apiece.
The leadoff hitter and starting catcher for the Republicans was House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who nearly died in 2017 after he was shot at a baseball practice for the game that year. Democrats offered an outpouring of goodwill after the attack but showed no mercy on Wednesday, stealing bases freely against Scalise’s poor throws from behind the plate.
Democrat Jimmy Panetta impressed with a pair of two-run triples, sliding head first into third each time, followed by an inside-the-park home run with a head first slide into home.
Republicans Blake Moore and Anthony Gonzalez hit consecutive inside-the-park home runs in the first inning.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, who appeared as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning, was asked whether playing against people who don’t believe Biden won the presidential election would make it difficult to have a bipartisan moment.
He said he would keep the focus on the fact that the game was raising money for charity. “Hopefully people will leave the politics under the Capitol dome,” he said.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)