Three Months After Shooting, Steve Scalise Makes Emotional Return to House
WASHINGTON — Walking gingerly and on two canes, Representative Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, made an emotional return to the Capitol on Thursday, more than three months after a gunman nearly took his life during practice for a charity baseball game.
“It shows you if you fight and persevere, you can overcome anything,” Mr. Scalise told reporters as he entered the House chamber to thundering applause from his colleagues, who were awaiting his return. He then delivered his first remarks on the House floor since the shooting on June 14.
Mr. Scalise, his voice strong, said he wanted to “thank true angels across the way” — the Capitol Police officers who were wounded and fired the shots that are credited with preventing the gunman from harming anyone else; a fellow lawmaker who rushed to his aid and applied a tourniquet to his wound; and his doctors, who were seated in the House gallery.
“You are my hero — you saved my life,” he told one of the officers, David Bailey, who was also in the gallery. The other officer, Crystal Griner, was not present.
A man of deep Christian faith, Mr. Scalise repeatedly thanked God for his recovery, and he spoke of how he prayed during the chaotic, terrifying moments after the gunman had wounded him.
“When I was laying on the ground one of the things I prayed for was that David and Crystal would be successful in carrying out their duties,” Mr. Scalise said, adding, “When I was laying there not long after the first shots were fired, I could hear a different-caliber weapon. And that told me that they had immediately engaged the shooter.”
The gunman died after a shootout with the police.
Mr. Scalise, 51, was grievously injured, and said he had undergone “many, many surgeries” and was learning to walk again. His office said he had spent the months since the shooting in an inpatient rehabilitation center, but that starting on Thursday, he would be back at work and undergoing outpatient therapy.
“I’m definitely a living example that miracles really do happen,” he told his colleagues.
The 15-minute speech, in a chamber packed with Republicans and Democrats who repeatedly gave him standing ovations, marked the first time Mr. Scalise has spoken of his ordeal; he has also granted an exclusive interview to the CBS news show “60 Minutes,’’ which will air on Sunday night. A crew from the network followed him in the Capitol on Thursday.
The shooting took place at a baseball field in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., on June 14. Mr. Scalise said he had arrived at about 6:30 a.m. to practice with other Republican lawmakers for Congress’s annual charity baseball game. (Democrats were having their own practice at another field, he said.) The gunman, later identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., a suburb of St. Louis, opened fire shortly after 7 a.m.
Standing at second base, Mr. Scalise was shot once in the left hip, according to the accounts of witnesses at the time, and collapsed as the shots rang out, one after another, from behind a chain-link fence near the third-base dugout. Witnesses said Mr. Scalise, of Louisiana, “army-crawled” from the infield to the grass as the shooting continued.
By Mr. Scalise’s account, his fellow Republican, Representative Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, a former Army combat surgeon, rushed to his side and applied a tourniquet.
“Who would have thought that God would have put Brad out there on that field with me, because the tourniquet he applied, many will tell you, saved my life so that I could actually make it to the hospital in time with all the blood loss,” Mr. Scalise said.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Mr. Scalise said he had been struck by the “outpouring of love and warmth and prayers” — not only from colleagues and constituents, but also from world leaders, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The congressman wound up his remarks with a call to bipartisanship — or at least politeness.
“We are the people’s House, this is the place where those ideas are debated,” he said. “It is so important when we have those political battles we don’t make them personal.”