Congressman Shot

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise walks with his wife Jennifer as he leaves the House chamber in the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. To hugs and a roaring bipartisan standing ovation, Scalise returned to the House, more than three months after a baseball practice shooting left him fighting for his life.

Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise is a statesman and champion for the cause of freedom. He almost lost his life for his beliefs after a gunman, a left-wing activist, shot and almost killed him. If anyone knows gun violence, it’s Scalise. And yet House Judiciary Democrats denied him the opportunity to testify during a hearing this past week on gun violence.

“I was surprised, because it’s unprecedented,” said Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House.

James Hodgkinson, 66, shot Scalise and others in 2017 as the congressman and other Republican legislators and staff practiced in suburban Washington for a congressional baseball game. Hodgkinson volunteered for former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and was an outspoken critic of Republicans on social media. He joined one group called "Terminate the Republican Party."

The FBI discovered a list of names of congressional Republicans on Hodgkinson after the shooting. The Virginia attorney general concluded Hodgkinson was "fueled by rage against Republican legislators.”

Why not let Scalise speak? House committee members Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., argued over the issue but in the end chairman Nadler got his way.

“The uniqueness of Mr. Scalise’s testimony being denied this voice is tragic, especially from his perspective as a lawmaker who will be voting on and working with this issue, and just because he probably disagrees with the majority is no reason to keep him out,” Collins said.

“It’s a debatable decision,” Nadler said. “We decided that, rather than hear from a lot of our colleagues who have other opportunities to address this issue in Congress, we’d rather hear from the witnesses.”

House Democrats did allow Scalise to submit his testimony in writing. He applauded the intent to pursue a reduction in gun violence, but said that he does not support new gun control laws and that the focus should be on stopping criminals. Scalise argued that the measures proposed by Democrats would not have prevented his shooting.

Interviewed by Fox News, Scalise described Democrats' decision to prohibit his testimony as a bad start for the House going forward on hot-button issues.

“It’s not a good way for the Democrats to start their new majority by trying to suppress opposing viewpoints and there are going to be a lot of controversial issues that go before the Judiciary Committee in the next two years,” he said. “If they start to run it like a kangaroo court, it's going to really hurt their credibility and ultimately show that they’re not about getting facts out, they're just trying to promote a leftist agenda, and that would be a mistake on their part.”

Scalise, a sympathetic victim of gun violence testifying against gun control legislation, is clearly not the optics Democrats are looking for. In politics these days, optics are everything. And the fact that Scalise’s shooter was a left-wing activist is also a story some Democrats likely wish would go away.

When former Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011, the national media, often friendly to Democrats, went out of its way to blame the rhetoric of Republicans for her assassination attempt. The New York Times had to issue a correction for one of its editorials blaming former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for motivating Gifford’s shooter. It turned out the shooter was obsessed with Giffords long before Palin was on the national scene.

The Federalist reported the national media gave much more coverage to the shooting of Giffords than Scalise. Both stories were covered equally the first week but there was a dramatic fall-off in coverage of the Scalise shooting after that. The publication found that in the week after each shooting, newspapers nationwide ran more than twice as many articles mentioning Giffords as they had Scalise. Media bias is often reflected in how long they keep a story alive.

Maybe Democrats denied Scalise the right to testify because he disagrees with their legislation. Maybe they want the story of his shooting at the hand of a left-wing activist to just go away. Whatever their motivation, it represents politics at its ugliest.

Email Dan Fagan at Twitter: @DanFaganShow.