Members of the U.S. House of Representatives put bitter party divisions aside for a long standing ovation on Thursday as Representative Steve Scalise returned for the first time since he was shot and wounded in June.
Leaning on a cane but walking on his own, Scalise, 51, entered a packed House chamber to applause and loud cheers from his fellow members of Congress.
“You have no idea how great this feels to be back here at work in the people’s House,” said Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the chamber, standing at a desk in the Republican section after he was greeted with hugs and high-fives from members of his own party and Democrats.
Scalise was among Republican lawmakers attacked June 14 in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, by a gunman who opened fire on them while they were practicing for a charity baseball game against Democrats.
He thanked the Capitol police officers he credited with saving his life, world leaders who had contacted him and members of his medical team, who were sitting in the crowded visitors gallery overlooking the House floor.
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s voice cracked as he introduced Scalise. “The chair wishes to mark the return of our dear friend and colleague from Louisiana, Mr. Steve Scalise,” Ryan said. “Our prayers have been answered.”
Scalise gave an emotional speech, interrupted by frequent applause, thanking his family and referring to innate optimism he partly attributed to being from Louisiana, referring to the attitude of “joie de vivre” (joy of life) in a state with a heavy French influence.
“When I come back into this chamber today, just seeing the faces of all of you, it just means more than you can imagine,” Scalise said.
“Starting today, Whip Scalise will be resuming his work at the Capitol, while also completing an extended period of out-patient rehabilitation over the coming months,” his office said in a statement.
Scalise also broke his silence on the incident and his treatment and recovery.
The Louisiana Republican told “60 Minutes” a single bullet did serious damage when it struck him in the hip at a ballpark in Alexandria.
“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.
A lone gunman opened fire during the GOP’s early-morning practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, shooting four people. The shooter, 66-year-old James T. 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.
Some 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 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.”
MedStar could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday on Scalise’s interview about his recovery.