Steve Scalise was nearly killed last summer when a gunman opened fire at the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice. After months of surgeries and intensive rehabilitation, the Louisiana congressman met a thunderous ovation when he returned to work at the Capitol last September. The emotional scene—cathartic for Scalise and so many colleagues who were on the baseball field with him—might have obscured just how far he has to go. He’s still undergoing regular physical therapy and walks with the assistance of a cane; the wounds to his pelvis, hip and left leg were so severe that Scalise still doesn’t know whether he will ever be able to run again.
Mentally, however, he claims to have recovered fully. Scalise says he was able to process the incident and put the trauma behind him by reconstructing the events of the day with the help of his teammates and security detail. That included a trip back to the baseball diamond with David Bailey, one of the two U.S. Capitol Police officers who saved his life.
“We went back to second base, and he showed me where the shooter was,” Scalise told me in an interview for Politico’s “Off Message” podcast. “We’re looking at first base, where [Bailey was] in a gunfight with the shooter. And he [was] standing just kind of isolated on an island at first base with no protection, and the shooter is kind of hiding, pigeonholed behind this cinder-block dugout behind third base.”
Of course, Scalise doesn’t want to be defined by that event. And he’s a fascinating character for other reasons.
Control of the House of Representatives isn’t the only thing at stake in the Nov. 6 midterm elections—there’s also the future of the House speakership. Paul Ryan is retiring, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faces an uprising among younger Democrats and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not demonstrated the ability to collect the requisite 218 votes needed to become speaker. That makes Scalise, the House majority whip, a popular dark-horse pick to become speaker of the House—that is, if Republicans hold the majority.
Scalise, one of Washington’s most reliably on-message lawmakers, is even more cautious than usual these days. He’s spending the homestretch of the election season traveling the country with his House Republican colleagues, raising money and collecting favors while hugging President Donald Trump at every turn. Right now, with a career-climaxing promotion potentially awaiting him next month, Scalise can’t afford to alienate Republicans on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The internal dynamics are fragile: McCarthy’s allies have eyed Scalise warily for months, worried that he is undermining his superior’s bid for speaker. Scalise, for his part, promises not to run against McCarthy for the top spot if Republicans hold the House, and moreover, he tells me, “I think Kevin would have the votes.”
We talked about the shooting, the fight for control of Congress and America’s hostile political climate while in Pittsburgh, where Scalise was campaigning for endangered Republican congressman Keith Rothfus. Excerpts of that conversation follow.
This transcript has been edited for length, readability and clarity.
Tim Alberta: We’re just past the one-year mark of your return to Congress following the assassination attempt, the shooting at the baseball field in Alexandria, Va., during the congressional baseball practice. We think mostly about post-traumatic stress as it would relate to the military or to law enforcement. Do you find yourself experiencing any sort of post-traumatic stress?
Rep. Steve Scalise: Thank God, I really don’t. And I think a lot of that has to do with the support structure around me—my family, my friends—and those months I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital for 3½ months, and you have a lot of time to reflect but also talk through those things.
I talked to my security detail, Dave Bailey and Crystal Griner, who were my two Capitol Police security detail officers with me that day—true heroes who not only saved my life, but saved the lives of all the other people on that ballfield that morning. They were both shot themselves. When I was laying on the field, I never saw the shooter. I didn’t see all the perspectives that they saw. We talked through our different experiences and emotions, and I think that helped me resolve it a lot.