House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was at “imminent risk of death” when he was rushed to the hospital with a gunshot wound 15 weeks ago, made a dramatic return to the U.S. Capitol Thursday.
Scalise entered the House chamber on crutches to a roar of bipartisan applause, embraced several of his colleagues, and delivered his first floor remarks since the June 14 shooting.
“You have no idea how great this feels, to be back at work in the people’s House,” the Louisiana Republican said.
He added: “I’m definitely a living example that miracles really do happen.”
Though he walked slowly across the floor, Scalise showed little sign of physical weakness, delivering more than 15 minutes of remarks – thanking God, family, friends, colleagues, doctors and the law enforcement officers who ultimately killed the shooter, 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson, before he could harm more of the Republicans who had gathered for a morning baseball practice.
Scalise talked about the two Capitol Police officers on his security detail, David Bailey and Crystal Griner, who were at the scene and fired the first shots that were credited with preventing Hodgkinson from wounding or killing more people.
Bailey sat in the House gallery near Scalise’s wife, Jennifer, during the remarks.
“You are my hero,” Scalise told Bailey. “You saved my life.”
The floor was packed for Scalise’s return – not only by House members, but also several senators, including Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who was present at the baseball practice and was among the first people to reach Scalise after he was shot.
Scalise took his usual place on the Republican side of the House chamber, sitting next to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C.
But sitting immediately behind him was his closest Democratic friend, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, a fellow Louisianian who Scalise said was among the first to arrive at the scene of the shooting and then to visit him in the hospital.
“It really does show the warm side of Congress that very few people get to see,” Scalise said.
After speaking on the floor, Scalise cast his first vote since June – in favor of a bill that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and extend tax benefits to hurricane victims.
His office said that, starting Thursday, Scalise “will be resuming his work at the Capitol, while also completing an extended period of out-patient rehabilitation over the coming months.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., introduced Scalise on the House floor, asking whether the “gentleman from Louisiana” wished to be recognized.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Ryan said. “American is grateful for this moment.”
The return of Scalise, a jovial back-slapper who counts close friends in both parties, was a cause for relief and celebration for lawmakers who have worked under a cloud since the shooting.
“He’s been wanting to come back forever,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who joined a crowd waiting in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall for Scalise to make his way to the chamber. “You can’t keep a good man down.”
Scalise thanked his colleagues for the “outpouring of love” from both sides of the aisle, and he said he did not dwell on the shooter or the reasons that he opened fire.
“To me, all I remember are the thousands of acts of kindness and love and warmth that come out of this,” he said.
Scalise also gave his first media interview since the shooting, telling CBS’s “60 Minutes” that the bullet did serious damage when it struck him in the hip at the Alexandria, Virginia, ballpark.
“My femur was shattered,” he told “60 Minutes” correspondent Norah O’Donnell, according to excerpts of the interview released Thursday by CBS News. “The hip and pelvis had serious damage where the bullet went through and, you know, did some damage to areas that had to be shored up with steel plates. And then they did a phenomenal job of rebuilding – you know, kind of the, rebuilding Humpty Dumpty. I mean, there were, there was a lot of damage inside that had to get fixed.”
“They put you back together again,” O’Donnell said.
“They put me back together again,” Scalise confirmed.
Hodgkinson opened fire during the GOP’s early-morning practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, shooting four people. Hodgkinson was pronounced dead at a hospital after a gun battle with police.
Scalise suffered a single bullet wound to the hip, and as The Washington Post’s Dana Hedgpeth reported, doctors said the congressman was at “imminent risk of death” when he was first admitted to the hospital.
Wounds to the pelvic region are extremely dangerous, The Post’s Lenny Bernstein reported, because that region of the body is crowded with organs and blood vessels. Among them: the iliac blood vessels that include major arteries branching off from the aorta – the main route that carries blood to the body.
About 30 to 50 percent of injuries to the main iliac vessels result in death, Joseph V. Sakran, director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told The Post.
MedStar Washington Hospital Center said in a statement at the time that the bullet shot into Scalise’s hip “traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding.”
Scalise underwent several surgeries to repair his injuries, and his condition steadily improved under cautious care.
Nine days after the shooting, he was released from intensive care and upgraded to fair condition. But he was readmitted to the intensive care unit on July 5 because of concerns about infection, and Scalise subsequently had another operation.
He was finally discharged in late July to begin what doctors called “intensive inpatient rehabilitation.”
On the House floor Thursday, Scalise praised his medical team, saying, “They gave me a second chance at life.”
In a statement, MedStar Washington Hospital Center officials said they watched “with great joy” as Scalise returned to work.
“For the past few months, our teams have been in awe of Rep. Scalise and his intense commitment to returning to his family, home and his important work on Capitol Hill,” the hospital said. “We are pleased that he has reached this milestone and wish him continued success in his recovery.”