House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican shot in the hip at a congressional baseball practice Wednesday morning, is always on the move as the third-highest ranking member of the House of Representatives.
The 51-year-old fifth-term congressman, a New Orleans native, is the top vote counter for House GOP leadership, a tough job in an increasingly divided Washington.
He’s known on the Hill for his jovial attitude and for being a huge Pelican State enthusiast: passing out trinkets from Louisiana, scribbling lists of top-notch restaurants to visit for Hill staff or reporters vacationing on his home turf, or taking members of Congress to visit a Gulf of Mexico oil rig to learn his state’s economy.
First elected in 2008, Scalise has risen through the ranks to become the chamber’s top whip counter. He developed a taste for politics at a young age, when he would ride a red, white and blue-decorated bike around his neighborhood and encourage anyone who would listen to head to the polls and vote, according to a “Politics in America” almanac profile.
Scalise registered as a Republican the day he turned 18 and joined College Republicans at Louisiana State University, where he also volunteered for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign.
Local Republicans recruited Scalise in 1995 to run for the Louisiana House of Representatives, where he went on to serve for 12 years. After spending a few months in the state Senate, Scalise ran for Congress, where he’d for a time be considered one of the more conservative members of the House.
He quickly developed a reputation as a big supporter of the National Rifle Association. He even led a fight in the late 1990s against a New Orleans mayor who had sued several gun manufacturers in an attempt to recoup the city’s costs for curbing violent crime, according to a CQ profile. Scalise wrote a bill barring cities from taking businesses to court over what their customers did after purchasing products.
Scalise also used his perch on the Hill to advocate for Louisiana in 2010 after the BP oil ring explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. He sponsored legislation giving fines related to the spill to coastal states to rebuild.
At the end of 2012, Scalise ran and was elected to lead the Republican Study Committee, defeating Georgia Republican Tom Graves despite the Georgia Republican’s endorsement from former RSC chairmen. He steered the group, which includes more than 160 of the more conservative half of the conference, into supporting legislative positions to rein in federal spending, sometimes at odds with leadership. He also used his post to rail against then-President Barack Obama for advocating for what he called a “radical” left-wing agenda.
His ascent didn’t stop there. In June 2014, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) unexpected primary defeat by conservative challenger Dave Brat triggered a leadership scuffle that landed Scalise on his current trajectory.
When then-Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ran for Cantor’s position, Scalise likewise jumped into the race to replace McCarthy, defeating senior Republican Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who many considered the favorite, and conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.).
Republican Southerners, who had no representation in leadership, were particularly excited to install one of their own near the top.
Scalise found himself engulfed in a controversy when a Louisiana blogger reported that he had given a speech in 2002 to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Scalise apologized and said he regretted that decision, explaining that he was there to drum up support for a tax bill in the state legislature — not to support the group’s cause. Leadership backed him, curbing any political fallout. But ultimately it was his longtime friendship with Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, a black lawmaker who had served with Scalise in the state House, that saved Scalise. Richmond vouched for him.
Scalise is married and has two children.