WASHINGTON — As U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise lay wounded on a suburban baseball diamond in June, bleeding badly from a rifle round to his hip, he turned to a colleague to ask a favor.
Jeff Flake, a U.S. senator from Arizona and a fellow player on the Republican baseball team, had been trying to put pressure on the wound. With a helicopter on the way to fly Scalise to the hospital, the congressman asked Flake to fetch his cellphone and call his wife back in Louisiana.
"I wanted to make sure Jennifer was notified, and I was in no position to call her,” Scalise said in an interview Wednesday morning. “ It was 6:30 in the morning, roughly, New Orleans time, and it woke her up. Luckily, she answered the phone ... and Jeff told her what happened.”
Scalise himself didn’t realize just how bad the news was. The bullet had smashed through bone and badly damaged a number of organs. A tourniquet tied on the baseball field by fellow U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a physician and combat veteran, would later be credited with saving Scalise’s life — but it didn’t entirely stop massive bleeding.
“I didn’t know how bad the bullet wounds were,” Scalise said. Dr. Jack Sava, who treated Scalise at Washington MedStar Hospital, said later that the congressman was in “imminent risk of death” when he arrived.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Wednesday began in familiar tranquility in this Washington, D.C., suburb, …
Scalise, who’d been practicing with Republican congressional colleagues for a charity baseball game when he was shot, spent the next month at the hospital “focusing on just staying alive,” enduring numerous surgeries to battle infections and patch back together bones and organs decimated by the high-powered bullet.
His wife and two children — Harrison, 8, and Madison, 10 — traveled to Washington, visiting Scalise daily at the hospital as his condition slowly stabilized.
“For the kids, it was tough at first,” Scalise said, “but then they saw me getting better, and I think that helped them because, you know, they knew that Daddy was shot. They also knew that he’s going to be OK, and that was important.”
Over the months that followed, all of it spent cooped up on MedStar Hospital’s campus, Scalise, elected majority whip by his fellow Republicans in 2014, said he never once thought about stepping back from public life.
Sitting in a leather wingback chair in his office near the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda — his motorized scooter parked just to his left, its basket filled with documents — Scalise said he worked furiously while in the hospital on rehabilitation and physical therapy. He was determined to pull off a moment just like last Thursday, when the Jefferson Parish Republican made his way back onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives — using two crutches but moving under his own power — to hoots, cheers and thunderous applause from his colleagues.
“I was trying to push as hard as I could in my rehabilitation ... to get to the point where I could walk onto the House floor,” Scalise said. “I looked forward to being able to do that.”
WASHINGTON — Moving on crutches and grinning from ear to ear, Congressman Steve Scalise walk…
The most eye-catching items on Scalise’s office walls are a pair of football jerseys from the New Orleans Saints and LSU Tigers, both with “Maj. Whip” emblazoned across the back. A shelf is stocked with photos of Scalise, a second baseman for the Republican baseball team, on the field during previous games. A trophy from one of the annual charity games sits on the fireplace mantle.
Scalise points to a window in the corner of the office with a stunning vista of the National Mall and the Washington Monument.
“Take a look out that window — it’s the best view in D.C,” Scalise said. “That’s something I missed seeing every day, too.”
But even during more than three months in the hospital, Scalise remained plugged into everything happening back on Capitol Hill. He watched in July as a Republican-backed bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that he’d worked hard to pass through the House dramatically collapsed in the U.S. Senate.
By August, Scalise said, aides were dropping by his hospital room to brief him on a jammed docket of major business awaiting Congress at the end of the August recess. He kept in touch with fellow House Republican leaders as they shaped plans for looming battles over the federal budget and an overhaul of the tax code.
He’s now stepped back into the relentless grind of his job as the House’s No. 3 Republican, zipping around the Capitol on the scooter covered in LSU Tiger stickers and meeting daily with fellow leaders to plot strategy.
Trips back to the hospital for physical therapy and rehabilitation sessions are squeezed in during lunch breaks several times a week, slotting the treatment between stacked appointments in his again-bustling schedule on Capitol Hill. Except for those sessions, Scalise said, he’s nearly back to his old schedule.
“I’m back — fully back and doing the job almost at full pace,” Scalise said. “We’re working on the budget; we’re working on tax reform; so we have some big things in the mix, and it’s good to be (back) in the middle of putting those bills together.”
From the hospital, Scalise said, he also missed the camaraderie among his fellow members and his job of whipping up votes, a task well-suited to a congressman known for his energy and back-slapping rapport with colleagues.
The escape was a welcome change after months trapped in the hospital. Scalise said a steady stream of special deliveries from New Orleans-area restaurants helped keep his spirit up — “the nurses were jealous,” he added with a laugh. But the monotony appeared to grate on the gregarious south Louisianian.
After Bono, the frontman for Irish rock superstars U2, invited him to the band’s New Orleans concert last month, Scalise said he begged his doctors for a “hall pass” to head home and see them. His doctors refused.
“It was a long time, and never once did I leave that hospital complex,” Scalise said. “I was just yearning to get out and get back to some normal things.”
The near-death experience, Scalise said, “focuses you on what’s really important in life” — a short list made up of “my family and my friends and the things I love.”
But his firm political beliefs have remained unchanged by the experience. A staunch conservative voice in Congress, Scalise has hinted at no hospital conversions from his firmly held positions, such as on gun control, which is again in the news after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Scalise's shooting — which left four others wounded and ended only after the gunman, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, was killed by police — hasn’t shaken the congressman's position on gun rights, he said. Policies being pushed by some Democrats to curtail access to firearms, Scalise said Wednesday, “have nothing to do with solving or stopping these mass shootings.” The whip pointed instead to legislation he’d helped push last year to boost access to mental health treatment.
Scalise punctuated his triumphant return to the U.S. Capitol with a first trip back to Louisiana, where he once again basked in applause at Saturday’s LSU football game as Scalise, a diehard LSU fan, made his way onto the Tiger Stadium field during the first quarter with his wife, Jennifer, and their two children.
Beyond the ovation, Scalise said, the football game was special for a far more personal reason. The trip was the first time at Tiger Stadium for the kids.
“I would’ve liked to beat Troy State — it was not the best ending to the game — but just to be back at Tiger Stadium, doing the things I love and enjoyed doing before the shooting, and be back to doing that again,” Scalise said, grinning as he sat in his office. “To experience all that was really special.”
But the packed itinerary for the trip back home left no time for one thing Scalise said he’s been longing for while stuck in D.C. — charbroiled oysters.
“The first restaurant I want to go to is Drago’s and get those charbroiled oysters,” Scalise said, “and maybe a shrimp po-boy.”