Politics & Government

Congressman Steve Scalise shares his survival story and his faith

When U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, was shot on June 14, 2017, while on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, the congressman tried crawling away, but eventually his arms gave out.

Then he started to pray.

The first thought was of his daughter years in the future, walking down the aisle of her wedding alone, Scalise said.

“I said, ‘Please God, don’ t let Madison walk down the aisle alone.’ That’s what had come to my mind first,” Scalise said. “Then I just prayed that I see my family again.”

Scalise spoke about the congressional shooting on Monday at the 21st Annual Congressional Prayer Breakfast in Collinsville. The shooter, James Hodgkinson, who was from the Belleville area, was killed by law enforcement during the shootout.

In Scalise’s remarks he never uttered Hodgkinson’s name, refering to the metro-east man as the “shooter” or a “deranged gunman.”

The breakfast also featured fellow Republican baseball team members U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who is Scalise’s roommate in Washington, D.C., and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, whose office had been contacted by Hodgkinson 10 times.

“(After) the events of that day ... prayers went out all over the nation,” Bost said. “We’re just happy that it turned out the way it did.”

Davis was at bat when the shooting began.

“We don’t want to think of the guy who decided one day to come and try to assassinate all of us,” Davis said. “We want to think of all the survivors, the many people that day who were on the field, all the people who were in the park innocently running, walking their dog, and what have you. We don’t want to spend time thinking about what made that crazed man do what he did or where he might have come from.”

Scalise was one of four people wounded that day by Hodgkinson at the GOP practice the day before the annual congressional baseball game. The others included a lobbyist, a legislative aide and a Capital Police officer.

Davis said he understands the difficulty Scalise has in forgiving Hodgkinson.

“Since the shooter isn’t on earth anymore, you don’t have to personally forgive, as much as you may if he were still here,” Davis said. “But it’s a difficult thought for all of us. I don’t blame Steve. I certainly have my issues. One wonders, what makes somebody come from this part of Illinois, our area, our home, and think it’s OK because of political differences to try assassinate innocent people in a park just having fun, one morning.”

Hodgkinson held anti-Republican views, wrote several letters to the editor speaking about tax policies, and the concentration of wealth by the top 1 percent of people. A couple of weeks before the shooting, he told his wife he was going to Washington, D.C., to “fix taxes,” the BND reported after the shooting.

Scalise addressed whether there should be efforts to make changes after a tragedy. There are often calls for more gun control measures in the wake of a mass shooting.

“We have tragedies in this country all the time, around the world we have tragedies. Some people when we start to pray say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be praying, we should be talking about changing laws.’ There’s a time for policy, but when an event is going on like that, the time right there is for prayer,” Scalise said.

Scalise, who still walks with a cane, credited the actions of the Capitol Police detail for quickly taking down the shooter and protecting the others on the field.

Scalise also was grateful U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a doctor who served in Iraq, for being on the field that day. Wenstrup usually has a meeting during the latter part of practice and leaves early. That morning, the meeting was canceled and Wenstrup stayed longer.

When Wenstrup heard “shooter down,” he ran toward Scalise, saw a lot of blood, asked some basic questions to try to keep Scalise awake. He used a tourniquet to help stop the bleeding.

“This gets to the miracles and how God puts people in the right places to take care of us,” Scalise said.

When Scalise got to hospital, he had no blood pressure, and eventually needed 20 units of blood during his surgery.

Doctors didn’t know whether Scalise would survive.

“And yet prayers continued to come out, and God performed a lot of miracles that day. Again one or two of them you might say is a coincidence.”

Scalise said he received words of support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as other leaders. Scalise added their words of support show they love the United States and what it stands for.

“It wasn’t just an attack on a political party,” Scalise said. “Sure it was a politically motivated attack by a deranged gunman, but to people outside this attack, they (saw) it was an attack on Congress, on America, and what we represent.”

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.