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Scalise bid for speaker role follows nine years in House Republican leadership

Louisiana Republican pitches his style, track record and determination in pursuit of conservative policies

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., left, and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrive for a House Republican Conference caucus meeting in the Capitol in June.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., left, and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrive for a House Republican Conference caucus meeting in the Capitol in June. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Majority Leader Steve Scalise announced his intention to seek the speakership with a description of his recovery from being shot at a Republican practice for the Congressional Baseball Game in 2017, a passing reference to his current treatment for blood cancer and a call to “mend the deep wounds that exist” within the Republican conference.

It was never a question for him whether he would return to Congress after he nearly died, the Louisiana Republican wrote to his colleagues. He believes they were sent here to come together and “solve the immense challenges we face.”

“God already gave me another chance at life. I believe we were all put here for a purpose,” Scalise wrote. “This next chapter won’t be easy, but I know what it takes to fight and I am prepared for the battles that lie ahead.”

Scalise, first elected to Congress in 2008, has made his way up the path of Republican leadership with an interest in policy, an approach that brings other viewpoints into the fold and a largely collegial relationship across party lines.

As a deputy on Kevin McCarthy’s leadership team, he has been a constant presence at news conferences, and he’s been consistently aligned with the conference message and established GOP policy interests such as gun rights and immigration.

An ally of former President Donald Trump, he voted on Jan. 6, 2021, to reject the certified election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election although there was no evidence of fraud that might have changed the outcome in those states. He alleged states didn’t follow their state laws on presidential elections.

Scalise’s pitch Wednesday to colleagues highlighted his commitment to a secure border, lowering inflation, holding the Biden administration accountable and dedication to unifying the conference.

“Every state is now a border state, with millions of unvetted illegal immigrants being shipped across the country, robbing social services meant for hard-working citizens,” he wrote.

He has touted the 2017 law dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a sweeping bill enacted under Trump that sliced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. Coming from a large fossil fuel-producing state, Scalise is keen on increasing the supply of American energy through enhanced production and innovation.

Scalise has been unwavering in his support for gun rights, and that continued after he was gravely injured in the 2017 congressional baseball shooting. In the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022, when a bill hit the floor that would let federal courts temporarily bar some people from possessing or buying firearms if believed to be a risk, Scalise, then the House minority whip, sought to defeat it.

Lynnel Ruckert, who served as Scalise’s chief of staff for eight years, recalls when Scalise was recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee, a position she said he had a knack for and included a great deal of travel and meeting with potential members.

Ruckert thought Scalise would have an opportunity to become NRCC chair, and when she mentioned that to him she said he responded: “I like politics, but I love the policy. If I run for anything, it’s going to be RSC [Republican Study Committee] chair.”

The RSC is the largest bloc of House conservatives. “He enjoys policy. He’s good at policy. That’s what motivates him,” Ruckert said of her former boss.

Former Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said Scalise helped him campaign in 2012. “He’s a guy who’s very gregarious, very great to meet, helped me raise money. And then I get to Washington and it was like I had known him my entire life,” Davis said. “But that’s not just me, that’s who Steve’s been with everybody.”

Scalise became chairman of the RSC and then in 2014 won the contest to become House majority whip on the first ballot, indicative of a high level of support.

Some critics of Scalise at the time worried he wasn’t conservative enough, while supporters saw him as someone who could engineer compromise among the various party factions.

Davis didn’t vote for Scalise in the 2014 whip race, but Scalise still kept Davis on the whip team, a move Davis said shows Scalise is a leader who brings other viewpoints into the fold. Davis was on the field when Scalise was shot in 2017 and refers to him as the “epitome of courage” who was able to come back to be a “very well respected, very good whip.”

Davis fondly remembers Scalise as an accommodating host when he would have people over to his office for dinner, and made sure he stocked Busch Light.

“So every time I’d come to dinner, he had my favorite drink because I didn’t drink his crappy Caymus wine,” Davis said. “If you ever saw me walking around with a can of Busch Light after votes, you’d guarantee I probably went down and grabbed it out of his office.”

Scalise is from Jefferson Parish, La., and graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in computer science. He’s married to his wife, Jennifer, with two kids, Madison and Harrison.

Before he was in Congress, Scalise was elected to the state House in 1995 and served 12 years before being elected to the state Senate in 2007. He has a significant record as a state legislator, particularly on social issues.

Scalise in 2014 faced criticism and apologized for giving a speech in 2002 to a white supremacist group called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which was founded by David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Among his defenders was Democrat Cedric L. Richmond, who would later go on to chair the Congressional Black Caucus.

Scalise was House minority whip from 2019 to 2022 and then ascended to majority leader when Republicans took control of the House at the start of the 118th Congress.

“You know my leadership style I’ve displayed as your Majority Leader and Whip,” Scalise wrote to his colleagues in his speaker contest announcement. “I have a proven track record of bringing together the diverse array of viewpoints within our Conference to build consensus where others thought it impossible.”

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023