Watch: Scalise Talks About His Recovery and Return to Baseball
He’s a force in the Republican Party as the powerful House majority whip. His name is in the conversation as the next speaker. But as Steve Scalise recently reflected in his ornate leadership office in the Capitol, he talked about friendships.
The Louisiana lawmaker’s friends thought he was dead exactly a year ago, knocked down by a bullet and bleeding out on the infield where the Republican team was practicing a day before the Congressional Baseball Game.
He’s made it all the way back to taking the field Thursday night when his team plays the Democrats in the annual charity faceoff at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park.
“I went through a lot of different emotions and different levels of recovery over the last year. But those first few months especially, when you’re fighting for your life and you’re not sure, was I even going to be able to come back to Congress and do my job that I love so much? Was I going to be able to walk again?” he recalled.
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“To have the strength and support of my family and the friends that I’ve made up here that are true, genuine friendships, it’s … a side of Congress that people don’t see too often, and frankly, they should see more of it because it’s real,” Scalise added.
‘A little bit of longing’
The Louisiana Republican’s recovery was emotional for his teammates, his House colleagues and the congressional community as a whole, as he underwent surgery after surgery and they waited on updates on his condition. He returned to Congress on Sept. 28 and last week returned to the baseball field for practice.
He still walks with one crutch and his movement is limited. Watching his colleagues play the game he loves so much is tough for him.
“There’s definitely a little bit of longing when you’re watching everybody else play. A year ago this time, I was doing all that. I could run to first, I could be maybe one of the fastest base runners that we had to steal home … and I can’t do all those things right now. And so you do miss that a little bit, but I know I’m lucky to be alive,” he said.
“I really do recognize that things could have ended a lot differently,” he added. “Things could have been a lot worse, dramatically worse. And I know how close I was to not being here, so there’s not a day that goes where I don’t appreciate the fact that I made it and I keep getting better.”
At game time a year ago, Scalise was in critical condition and had just come out of his third surgery in two days. So getting to suit up Thursday has a new meaning.
“I’m going to actually wear a jersey and go out there and play in some capacity,” he said. “I was able to put a uniform on and go out to practice and get my glove and field ground balls and make the throw to first. That was really neat. Obviously, I’m not able to have as much range as I had, but just to be able to go out there with everybody and be able to be a part of it again is special.”
He knows he still has limits.
“If they need me to be a base runner, then we’re in real trouble,” he joked.
Scalise was one of five people wounded in the shooting. Both members of his security team were injured in a shootout with the gunman. Two others who worked out with the team, staffer Zack Barth and lobbyist Matt Mika, were shot. Texas Rep. Roger Williams injured his ankle scrambling for cover.
“Obviously, a lot of us on the team were there last year, and everybody went through something pretty dramatic. I was shot, but even the members that weren’t shot were shot at or were maybe hiding in the dugout, wondering if it was going to be them next. Everybody had a different experience, and you got through it, made it through and get to come back again and do this,” Scalise said.
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The team wasn’t afraid to return to practice this year, and the majority whip said that’s good for Congress as a whole.
“You make true, deep, long-lasting friendships on both sides of the aisle, and that’s rare in Congress,” he said. “It’s something that needs to happen more, and so to make sure that we keep this tradition going is really important to the health of the institution.”
The first person at the hospital the morning Scalise was shot was Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, a fellow Louisianian and the Democrats’ star pitcher who has largely dominated the game since being elected to Congress.
“Ultimately, when my wife and kids got to D.C. and Jennifer’s obviously real distraught trying to figure out if I’m even going to make it through the night, having people like Cedric there meant a lot,” Scalise said.
The two had a relationship from when they both served in the Louisiana House for almost a decade.
“We worked on a lot of issues together representing southeast Louisiana, but then after the shooting, I think it got even stronger,” Scalise said.
“The Republican and Democrat colleagues of mine that came to the hospital to cheer me up, that’s the kind of stuff that helps you get through some really tough times,” he added.