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Scalise Returns To Baseball Field, A Year After Attack

Jun 14, 2018
Originally published on June 14, 2018 7:03 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, members of Congress visit Nationals Park here in Washington for a summertime tradition. Republicans face Democrats in the annual Congressional charity baseball game. It comes one year to the day after a gunman attacked a Republican team practice. The man wounded six people, including Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He told NPR's Kelsey Snell of the past year of recovery.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: A year ago today, Steve Scalise was lying in intensive care. Hours earlier, he was standing at second base when a gunman began firing onto a practice baseball field. One of those bullets hit Scalise in the hip and moved through his body. It damaged organs and broke bones along the way, and Scalise spent the next three and a half months in intensive recovery. Then on September 28, Scalise walked, with the help of crutches, onto the House floor to declare that he was back.

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STEVE SCALISE: So I am definitely a living example that miracles really do happen.

SNELL: He was far from fully healed and would still need several surgeries, but Scalise was tired of being on the sidelines. In an interview in his office in the Capitol, he said he didn't want to be left out.

SCALISE: I really missed the job when I was away. And, you know, in a business like this, I mean, everybody's competitive. You know, easily there could have been a time where somebody said, hey, Scalise is in the hospital. Let's, you know, have somebody else take his job.

SNELL: And he didn't just want to ease back into a quieter version of his life, either. Scalise says he was determined to dive back into his job as the majority whip, the chief Republican vote counter in the House. It's a demanding job full of arm twisting and cajoling to get legislation passed. And members like Florida Republican Dennis Ross say Scalise returned to his job with a more powerful voice.

DENNIS ROSS: His mere presence demands that people listen to him and then talk to him. That's a tremendous gift. A very hard way to get that gift, but it's a tremendous gift. And, in a sense, that's been very beneficial because members will talk to him.

SNELL: Scalise joked about the way the trauma and his recovery have given him a boost in negotiations.

SCALISE: There were a couple of bills that I whipped when I was in the hospital, and I found when you're calling somebody from the hospital, they're quicker to say yes to support (laughter) the bill. So maybe on tough votes, I need to just rent a room out at the hospital and make the calls from there.

SNELL: He attributes his new deeper political connection with members to the personal relationships his trauma helped forge. During his recovery, Republicans and President Trump called and texted Scalise constantly. Over time, Scalise got to know a lot more about what makes his colleagues tick and what makes them vote.

SCALISE: Having that deeper relationship personally I think really does help me be more effective in a leadership role like this.

SNELL: He also found himself thrust into the national spotlight as a champion of Trump's fervent base. Scalise has remained a staunch advocate for gun rights, and he's drawn himself closer than ever to Trump on immigration and taxes. It's a relationship Trump memorialized in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: With us tonight is one of the toughest people ever to serve in this House, a guy who took a bullet, almost died, and was back to work three and a half months later. The legend from Louisiana, Congressman Steve Scalise.

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SNELL: The new elevation comes at a chaotic time for House Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan is set to step down, leaving a void in GOP leadership. Scalise has endorsed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the job, but some in the party are still agitating for Scalise to take the lead. He's popular with his colleagues, and he's a regular fixture on cable news and in interviews embracing Trump and his agenda.

SCALISE: I think it's real important for us to have a close relationship with President Trump and to work with him to achieve the things we both want to see happen to get this country back on track.

SNELL: And colleagues like Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who tended to Scalise's wounds on the baseball field last year, say the story of his recovery is inextricable from his political story going forward.

JEFF FLAKE: I think this is so much ingrained into, you know, his, I don't know, own persona, I guess, that I don't think he has to talk about it that much. When he stands up in front of a room, you know, people see it.

SNELL: For now, Scalise says, he's more focused on winning this year's baseball game than leadership elections. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.