There were cheers and tears in Congress Thursday at the sight of Rep. Steve Scalise, back on his feet and back at work.
Three and a half months after he’d been gunned down at a congressional baseball practice, Scalise picked his way carefully across the House floor on crutches. Waiting for him with a big smile on his face was his friend and housemate, Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen.
It was, Paulsen said, “and emotional and really exciting day.” Scalise delivered a heartfelt 15-minute speech to his colleagues that served as a grace note at the end of a long and bitterly partisan September in Congress.
“He’s clearly on the mend and in a really good place,” Paulsen said afterward. “I think being on the floor today, that’s going to help speed up his rehabilitation, that emotional draw. It will encourage him to even push harder. And that’s just the way Steve is.”
Scalise will continue outpatient rehabilitation even as he resumes his congressional schedule next week. It might be a while, however, before he can return to the Washington quarters he’s shared for years with Paulsen and two other House Republicans.
The house’s steep narrow stairs for someone still recovering from a bullet that shattered his hip bones and femur – although Paulsen has a fix, whenever Scalise is ready to make the move.
“He knows I’ll move out of my room in a heartbeat,” he said. “If he wants to be on the ground floor…that’s easy to do. We’re just waiting for the word.”
Scalise did give his roomies a heads up about his return. The house phone rang Wednesday night.
“He said ‘You can’t tell anyone, it’s a secret,’” Paulsen said. “It was a little hard to sleep. We were excited. We knew it was going to be an exciting day, which it was -- lot of smiles, a lot of applause, a few tears too.”
Paulsen had been on the roster that June 14 morning, but skipped the practice so he could take some constituents on a White House tour.
“Having him on the floor, obviously, makes you think and relive what took place three and a half months ago,” he said. “But it also really draws the good in people. He’s receiving well-wishes and prayers from people around the world. There are so many Minnesotans, even last week, who were asking me, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard anything about Steve Scalise, how’s your roommate doing? It’s in people’s hearts [and] that just makes you feel good.”
Scalise, a high-ranking member of the House Republican leadership, plans to host a get-together with his colleagues next week to celebrate his return and get back to business, Paulsen said.
“That’ll really show people, I think, that things are back to normal,” he said.