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Scalise is back, but unclear for how long

Majority leader had been out for chemotherapy treatment; his schedule remains a 'work in progress'

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., leaves a news conference after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., leaves a news conference after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise returned to the Capitol Thursday for the first time since being diagnosed with blood cancer, vowing to continue working while focusing on his health.

Donning a mask and keeping a distance from reporters, the Louisiana Republican said his chemotherapy treatment is going well but could last possibly four to six months.

“My protocol is going to be a little different for the next few months because cancer … does affect your immune system,” he said.

Scalise, 57, was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma about three weeks ago, when he said he began not feeling well and had little appetite.

“I’ll eat a lunch and wasn’t even hungry for dinner, was just kind of not feeling myself,” he recalled of a campaign trip last month.

“I landed on a Friday. We went straight to the doctor. They ran some blood work and right away they said we’ve got to get to the hospital that night.”

[Scalise being treated for blood cancer, plans to keep working]

Now, after three weeks of treatment, he said his doctors were “very encouraged about where we are but obviously I’ve just got to stay focused on my health.” He said he has stayed in touch with his staff and spoke by phone with committee chairs Wednesday.

“My wife and I were very clear that we wanted to be aggressive,” he said of his treatment plan. “Fortunately, there have been advances made. There’s medicines that I can take.”

But how much time he spends at the Capitol remains “a work in progress,” he said. While some of the chemotherapy can be done on an outpatient basis, “That’s going to be something I gauge with my doctors.”

He said routine blood tests conducted in December were “clean,” so the cancer likely began sometime this year.

The cancer diagnosis marked the second serious health threat for Scalise in recent years. At a congressional baseball game in 2017, the lawmaker was shot in the hip and needed surgery for broken bones and severe bleeding.

Scalise made a full recovery from the shooting and kept up a busy work schedule since then. He said he would remain committed to his work now whether at home or at the Capitol.

‘A lot of conversations’

The challenge begins just as Congress faces the risk of a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1 unless lawmakers can pass a stopgap funding measure.

Avoiding a shutdown will require “a lot of conversations,” Scalise said. And he hasn’t given up on passing regular appropriations bills through the House, even though the Defense spending bill is now stalled after leaders couldn’t muster enough votes this week to adopt a rule governing floor debate for the measure.

“We’re still working to try to get the appropriations bill moved,” Scalise said. “That bill is still out there. Obviously, the votes aren’t there for everything right now, but we’re still having discussions to see if we can get some of the additional appropriations bills passed. But we just got to keep having conversations.”

And he kept up an attack on the Biden administration over economic policy.

“Our biggest issue is we want to get control over spending and want to get control over the border,” he said. “And we’re just very far apart from where the White House and the Senate are and I don’t see any real interest from the White House on trying to improve where the economy is. I mean, they’re still bragging about Bidenomics even though the economy continues to struggle.”

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