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Steve Scalise opens about his near-death experience

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) returned to a standing ovation in the House more than three months after a baseball practice shooting left him fighting for his life. Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was welcomed back to Capitol Hill Thursday with a standing ovation from his fellow Congressman, sat down with Politico's Tim Alberta to share the emotional story of his near-death experience after being shot at a Congressional baseball practice in June. After coming close to bleeding out on the field, Scalise recalls his first memory of the gunfire:

Standing on a baseball field, "you're not thinking 'that's a bullet' ... I felt it … and I just went to the ground. I still had enough energy to start crawling—I'm crawling just to get away. And then my arms just gave out. And at that point, I'm just lying on the ground and I'm hearing gunfire. And so I just started praying. I mean, literally, just started praying. It was weird: I got almost an ease over me, because I felt like, you know what, there's nothing I can—I can't move. So I'm just going to pray to God and put [it] in his hands."

Key excerpts:

  • What happened next: "I started hearing the counterfire—a different caliber bullet. So I knew my security detail was engaged. And so I prayed for them to be successful. It seemed like forever. And I mean, it was a lot of gunfire. You could tell it was just a brutal fight."
  • "Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), who served as a combat doctor in Afghanistan, applied a tourniquet to Scalise that doctors later credited with saving his life. Scalise said Wenstrup had a worried look on his face after realizing that the bullet never exited Scalise's body, and that prompted him to get Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to contact his wife Jennifer. 'She answered, and he was the first person to tell her what happened,' Scalise tells me. 'She was asleep. It was 6:30 in the morning in New Orleans.'"
  • Paramedics planned to drive him to George Washington University hospital, but because of his condition and the heavy traffic, feared he would die before they arrived. So they waited for a helicopter.
  • His optimistic outlook: "If you had [said] at the beginning of the day there's going to be a guy who shows up committed to kill Republicans, with this kind of weaponry, and he's got the element of surprise, what do you think the outcome's going to be? And they're all out there on the field, sitting ducks? Nobody would have said four people got shot but walked away, and the shooter's dead ... that's because of the skill and presence of my Capitol Police security detail. And a little divine intervention from God."
  • "The deluge of kindness and encouragement" from others during his recovery "took him by surprise": "A deeply personal conversation with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu lifted his spirits; a care package of authentic Tex-Mex cuisine delivered from Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar's district was among the more memorable bipartisan gestures," writes Alberta. "The highlight, though, was a phone call from Bono. Scalise has been a U2 fanboy since high school ... and Bono responded by asking Scalise to be his special guest at a concert there in mid-September."
  • On how he feels now: "I don't feel like a different person. I just know how lucky I am."