Washington, D.C. — Steve Scalise has come a long way during more than two decades in public office, and not just in terms of mileage.
Once a lowly rank-and-file Louisiana legislator whose office consisted of a desk in the House chamber in Baton Rouge, Scalise is now the third-ranking Republican in Congress, with the impressive Washington digs to prove it.
So in addition to his duties as House Majority Whip, Scalise regularly plays tour guide — particularly this week, with thousands of locals in town for a Washington Mardi Gras celebration in which he just replaced David Vitter as krewe captain and is also serving as this year's chair.
In addition to his regular district office in one of the Capitol's satellite buildings, Scalise's whip post entitles him to a third floor Capitol perch that offers one of the sweetest views in D.C., even sweeter than House Speaker Paul Ryan's a floor below.
From a desk he had built facing one of the windows, Scalise can gaze down over the remnants of the inaugural viewing stands to the National Mall, the Washington Monument and all the way to the Lincoln Memorial (my eyes aren't sharp enough, but Scalise told me on my own Thursday morning tour that if you lean to the side you can see Honest Abe himself).
Speaking of Lincoln, the congressman is particularly proud of another room he inherited on the second floor off stately Statuary Hall, which once served as the House chamber. There are just two doors off the hall, he pointed out, and both bear the names of Louisianans. One, a private area for female members of Congress, is named in honor of the late Lindy Boggs. The second is his.
A few feet away is a floor plaque marking the spot where Lincoln, literally a back-bencher who served a single term in Congress, used to sit. The assignment was far from the dais but close to a members' retreat, where he would often sit by the fireplace.
Upon taking over the space and learning its history, Scalise renamed it the "Lincoln Room" and filled it with artifacts of the era, including replicas of handwritten drafts of the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation.
Washington, D.C. — There's a sign on the observation deck overlooking the Library of Congres…
Of course, it's also a working office, so there are a few non-period details, including a bunch of flat-screen televisions and a conference table where Gov. John Bel Edwards ran a delegation meeting on flood relief earlier in the week (Scalise said he lets the governor sit at the head of the table when he visits). There's a decidedly non-commercial kitchen where New Orleans restaurateur Dickie Brennan once put on a spread of turtle soup, shrimp and duck poppers, a local appetizer, for some of Scalise's invited guests. The dinner happened to coincide with a floor vote, Scalise said, and the aroma wafted into the nearby House chamber and attracted more than the usual number of pop-ins.
"It's a real good way to build relationships," he said.
Then there's a framed photo of Scalise, wearing the uniform of his alma mater, Archbishop Rummel High School, and scoring on a wild pitch in the annual congressional baseball game by Democratic star pitcher Cedric Richmond, another former Louisiana legislator who made good.
Scalise concluded the tour by showing off a trap door to a tunnel where the British were said to have broached the Capitol during the War of 1812, and his private access to the treacherous brick walkway that served as visitors gallery when Congress met in Statuary Hall.
Then it was on to more Mardi Gras duties, including a meet-and-greet with the Louisiana festival queens, wearing their tiaras, who will take part in Saturday night's ball.
"Everybody's got to work somewhere," Scalise told the young women. "Why not in a living museum?"