On the Hill, Rep. Steve Scalise works behind the scenes to convince other Republicans to line up behind his Party’s agenda.
But on the baseball field during the annual Congressional game, he plays up the middle: He’s the second baseman.
It was that position that put Scalise, 51, in the line of fire when a gunman with a history of anti-Republican rants unleashed fire during the Republican team practice Wednesday.
Scalise, the Republican Whip and a fifth-term Congressman from Louisiana, was the only member hit during the attack. A lobbyist, a staff member and two capitol police officers were wounded. Scalise was struck in the hip and in critical condition after undergoing surgery Wednesday morning.
“Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone,” a statement from his office read.
The incident came amid a series of high-stakes negotiations for Scalise, as he and other party leaders wrangled an often fractious conference to support signature bills, in spite of a never-ending stream of news from the White House that has threatened to derail its agenda.
By many accounts, Scalise has managed this difficult job admirably, though it is President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan who command most of the national headlines.
“No one knows more about what it takes to move legislation during the Trump era than Scalise,” a recent profile in the Washington Examiner said. “And if the Republican legislative agenda doesn’t crash and burn, Scalise will deserve a lion’s share of the credit.”
Washington insiders credited Scalise with much of the work to revive a moribund effort to pass a health care bill in March.
“That would be an example of very effective whipping on the majority side,” said C. Lawrence Evans, a professor of Government at the College of William and Mary.
The effort was successful because party leaders managed to corral a sense of urgency from Republicans, who didn’t want to be blamed for killing the bill, making substantive adjustments to the bill to get conservatives on board, Evans said.
“He was part of that process,” Evans said. “This is not the way Tom Delay whipped the house in the 1990s. This was more organized, much more orientated around quid pro quo and institutional benefits and the like.”
Scalise has built a reputation as a pragmatic and unifying conservative since he joined the House in 2008.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told CNN that his colleague often casts himself as an icebreaker during tense times.
“He’s the kind of guy who will make you feel at ease even if he’s going through pain,” he said.
He is also known as a stalwart on the ball field, a role that did not always come naturally.
“I couldn’t even make my high school team but kind of bloomed later in life,” he recently told Roll Call.
Scalise makes it to every practice, despite his busy schedule. He told Roll Call he was trying to turn around a losing record.
“After last year, it had been seven years since we won,” he said. “We need to bring that score up a little bit.”
Scalise endorsed Trump during last year’s presidential campaign. He and Trump reportedly have a close relationship — so much so that the president sent the congressman’s daughter a personal message on her 10th birthday.
Trump tweeted his best wishes for his “good friend” Wednesday.
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2017
Trump After Alexandria Shooting: Scalise a Patriot, Fighter and Will Recover
As the number three in House Republican leadership, Scalise has a security detail assigned to him at all times. Other members who were practicing with Scalise said things would have turned out much worse had that detail not been present.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala, who was at the practice, said he first knew something was amiss when he heard Scalise scream.
“I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was clear that something bad had happened,” Brooks said. Witnesses said Scalise dragged himself across from the infield into the grass in right field, trailing his own blood, as others took cover.
Scalise, who has served in the House since 2008, joined the Republican leadership team in June 2014. As the former head of the influential Republican Study Committee, a caucus of over 150 House conservatives, he has worked to bridge a divide between Republican leaders and House conservatives.
He shares a Washington, D.C., townhouse with GOP Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois, Kevin Brady of Texas and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota. Shimkus, who is also a Congressional baseball teammate, tweeted a photo of the roommates from a previous game Wednesday.
He served in the Louisiana state legislature for more a decade and registered with the Republican Party the day he turned 18.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke to NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell about their friendship and said “we’re Republicans together, long before we ever served together.”
A third-generation Italian-American Scalise is also a devout Catholic who is known to carry a fava bean “to remind me of my faith and Italian heritage,” as he said on his Facebook page.
Eric Garcia contributed to this report.