BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Rep. Steve Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership, is known for his love of baseball and the late-night meals he often serves his colleagues in his office near the Capitol’s ornate Statuary Hall.
Scalise, the No. 3 House Republican, was shot Wednesday along with several others during a GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. He was in critical condition following surgery, the hospital said, and will require several more operations.
An avid sports fan, Scalise distributed commemorative baseball bats to fellow House members when he ran for the leadership post in 2014. The Louisiana conservative was elected majority whip, the job of chief Republican vote counter.
His campaign for the whip job had a Louisiana flair that included distribution of “Geaux Scalise” T-shirts and a Cajun dinner with sausage, oysters and gumbo.
A major supporter of the oil industry, Scalise also is known for hosting lawmakers on tours of offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. One of his major legislative accomplishments was ensuring that penalties paid after the BP oil spill go to areas affected by the spill.
Scalise, 51, was first elected to the House in 2008 and served as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives, before becoming whip in the leadership shuffle that followed the surprise defeat of then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.
In his whip campaign, he boasted about his conservative credentials and pointed out that he’d be the only GOP leader from the South, which had a major role in giving Republicans their largest House majority in decades.
At the time of the shooting, the lawmakers were preparing for an annual congressional game scheduled for Thursday night.
Scalise, who was shot in the hip, was transported to MedStar Washington and underwent surgery.
“Prior to entering surgery, the whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone. He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders and colleagues,” his office said in a statement.
Scalise has forged a close relationship with President Donald Trump, working together on the House health care bill and a pending effort to overhaul the tax code.
Trump, in remarks from the White House, called Scalise “a very good friend” and said, “He’s a patriot, and he’s a fighter. He will recover from this assault.”
As the No. 3 House Republican, Scalise has a security detail assigned to him at all times. Lawmakers who were at the practice said the shootings could have been much worse if the security detail had not been there.
Scalise represents a district that includes some New Orleans suburbs and bayou parishes. Before entering Congress, he was a lawmaker in Louisiana for 12 years. His signature legislation included a film industry tax credit program aimed at helping Louisiana become “Hollywood South” and a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.
As a state lawmaker, Scalise built relationships with people of diverse views, even as he maintained a rock-solid conservative voting record. One of his closest friends remains Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who leads the Congressional Black Caucus and befriended Scalise when the two were both in the state House.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., described Scalise as a great leader who is the go-to person for the state’s congressional delegation.
“Any time we need anything, we go to Steve and he makes it happen,” Abraham said.
Scalise has faced questions about some of his Louisiana ties. Six months after his election as whip, it came to light that he had spoken in 2002 to a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise apologized for the speech and said he was unaware of the group’s racial philosophy when he agreed to speak as a state legislator.
“I reject bigotry of all forms,” Scalise said then.
A fun-loving, unabashed champion for Louisiana’s culture and food, Scalise is known as someone who likes to have a good time just as much as he likes rough-and-tumble politics. He returns to the Louisiana legislature every year during session to revisit the House and Senate chambers where he once worked and mingle with his former colleagues, quick with hugs and handshakes.
Scalise is so unassuming and low-key that Louisiana politicians have often joked about his security detail.
“I’ve seen him a couple of times like in the Superdome and I often wondered, ‘Well, why in the hell did he have all those security people with him?” Louisiana Senate President John Alario said.
“I see why now,” Alario added. “It was an abundance of caution. I’m glad they did it.”
Matt Rudiger, a 45-year-old salesman who was at a Metairie, Louisiana, coffee shop near Scalise’s district office, said the shooting “really hit close to home” because he and Scalise both graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie.
“We’re all brothers. I feel like it happened to one of us,” Rudiger said.
Scalise and his wife, Jennifer, have two children.