Washington (AFP) – Republican US lawmaker Steve Scalise made a spirited return to Congress Thursday for the first time since being gravely wounded in a mass shooting at a June baseball practice.
A beaming Scalise drew loud cheers, fist bumps, and multiple prolonged standing ovations from colleagues when he walked using crutches onto the floor of the House of Representatives and addressed the chamber, three and a half months after he nearly died in an attack that shocked the nation.
“You have no idea how great this feels to be back at work in the people’s House,” Scalise told the packed chamber in an emotional speech announcing his return to work.
“I’m definitely a living example that miracles really do happen.”
The 51-year-old lawmaker from the southern state of Louisiana faced what doctors described as an “imminent risk of death” when he was rushed to the hospital with a gunshot wound on June 14.
He was shot in the left hip with a high-velocity rifle wielded by a gunman who stormed a congressional charity baseball game practice.
Scalise underwent several surgeries and months of rehabilitation. More physical therapy lies ahead in order to “relearn how to walk again,” he said.
A lobbyist, a congressional aide and a US Capitol Police officer who exchanged fire with the gunman were also shot, and have been discharged from hospital.
The attack stunned Washington, in part because of its political nature.
President Donald Trump was “thrilled” with Scalise’s return and spoke with him Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
After slowly crossing the floor, Scalise spoke for more than 15 minutes as he thanked God, friends and the law enforcement officers who engaged and killed the shooter.
One of the officers, David Bailey of the US Capitol Police, was in the House chamber.
Scalise turned and looked up at the officer. “David, you are my hero, you saved my life.”
The number three House Republican and a rising conservative star in Congress, Scalise spoke repeatedly of how his faith helped him pull through.
“I just started to pray,” he said of the moments after he was shot.
“It gave me an unbelievable sense of calm, knowing that at that point it was in God’s hands.”
But he also spoke of being “overwhelmed” by outpourings of love from colleagues, and by “the warm side of Congress” that most Americans do not get to see.
He detailed the visits and best wishes from lawmakers from across the political spectrum, as well as phone calls from international leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan hailed Scalise as an inspiration. “Our prayers have been answered,” Ryan said.