Congressman Shot

This image from House Television shows House Republican Whip Steve Scalise walking on the House floor of the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. To hugs and a roaring bipartisan standing ovation, Scalise returned to the House on Thursday, more than three months after a baseball practice shooting left him fighting for his life. (House Television via AP)

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At U2's Superdome concert earlier this month in New Orleans, the legendary band's lead singer gave a mournful hometown shout-out to U.S. Rep. and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who had been grievously wounded three months earlier during a mass shooting on a suburban Virginia baseball field.

“(He) almost lost his life. We wish him continued strength, and we hold him in our prayers,” Bono said during a long set-up to "One Tree Hill," a song about a friend who'd died.

If the concert had been two weeks later, the mood would have been remarkably different, and Bono might well have offered up another one of the band's hits as a tribute. "Beautiful Day" would have fit the bill nicely.

Thursday was indeed a beautiful day in Congress, which hasn't seen very many of them lately. Scalise's unexpected return to the House floor, using crutches but otherwise robust, strong-voiced and very much his old self, was a joy to behold.

Scalise has been in the hospital and in rehab since the shooting, which took place as Republicans practiced for the annual R-versus-D showdown, and no pictures of him had been published until this week, when CBS's "60 Minutes" started promoting its Sunday night interview. People who'd seen and spoken to him said so often that he was doing "great" that it was starting to sound like an agreed-upon script. What a relief to see that it's true.

Following a playful exchange with House Speaker Paul Ryan in which Scalise sought recognition "to speak out of order," he turned serious. He talked of how his situation had only strengthened his faith, and offered emotional thanks to the Capitol Police officers, colleagues and doctors who saved his life. He recognized his wife Jennifer, and the friends, constituents and strangers who offered good wishes and prayers. Scalise said what he'll remember about this time is "the thousands of acts of kindness that came out of this."

He then briefly addressed the question that was surely on many minds: How did the shooting change him?

To those wondering if Scalise might shift some of his political positions — perhaps even on gun control, which he has always staunchly opposed — he offered no encouragement, just a good-natured joke about how he has "passionate beliefs" that "for some reason some of you don't agree with."

But he did note the support he got not just from fellow Republicans but also from Democrats, including his old friend and sometimes "archrival" on the diamond, Cedric Richmond, the New Orleans Democrat who sat right behind him Thursday. The Democratic team was practicing that morning too, Scalise said, and somehow Richmond figured out which hospital he'd been taken to and showed up, still in uniform, "to check on me."

The ideological showdowns that put the parties on opposite sides are part of the process, he added, but "it's so important that as we have those political battles, we don't make them personal."

And he said that perhaps his deepest revelation came from the support he received from world leaders, not just those he'd met but those he hadn't.

"That touched me in a different way," Scalise said, and made him see the government in which he serves in a new light. Sure, these leaders cared about his well-being, he said, but the underlying message he got was that they saw the shooting as an attack on the country itself, and that "they know the United States being strong is critical to the rest of the world having the opportunity for freedom." He urged his colleagues to keep in mind that "people all around the world that believe in freedom are counting on us as well, and we will deliver for them."

Frankly, I'm not sure this constitutes much of a change. Nobody would ever confuse Scalise with a moderate, but he doesn't make things personal, as his long friendship with Richmond, his cooperative relationship with Gov. John Bel Edwards and the warm welcome that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered Thursday attest. And anyone who has the chance to visit him at his Capitol Hill office, as I did earlier this year, can't help but appreciate his reverence for going to work every day in a what he called a "living museum."

Frankly, the Scalise who spoke to Congress Thursday is exactly the guy his constituents have known all along. There'll be lots of time to evaluate his politics in the future; for now, seeing him back where he belongs is more than enough.

Email Stephanie Grace at sgrace@theadvocate.com.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.