A New Mission for Steve Scalise?

There was a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill last week to discuss gun violence, which is a problem that the Democrats now in charge of that committee, and specifically its new chair Jerrold Nadler of New York, are seeking to remedy with gun control.

And on Wednesday, when Nadler held a hearing to mark up something called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, the House Minority Whip — that being Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) — asked to address the committee. Scalise, after all, knows more about gun violence than anyone on the committee, having just less than two years ago survived an assassination attempt by a crazed Bernie Sanders volunteer named James Hodgkinson who brought a rifle to the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice session and sprayed the field with bullets in an attempt to kill as many of his ideological adversaries as his aim would allow.

Hodgkinson, who was killed by the police, failed to silence Scalise, though he did shatter the congressman’s pelvis with a bullet and nearly ended his life. To this day Scalise still walks with a cane — though he’s made remarkable progress in recovering from the fateful events of that day.

You’d think that given Scalise’s personal story it would be of value that the Judiciary Committee would be interested to hear what he had to say about gun violence.

And you would be incorrect. Nadler gave Scalise the brush-off, despite a pitched argument at the Committee’s hearing by Republican Doug Collins of Georgia. The rotund New Yorker said he was more interested in the testimony of witnesses than that of his colleagues. What he was really interested in was giving gun control advocates a platform to push the bill, which would require federal background checks on private gun sales. Scalise would have rightly told the committee that’s a total waste of time and wouldn’t have kept Hodgkinson from nearly killing him.

For the stiff-arm Scalise was more than a little miffed.

“It’s not a good way for the Democrats to start their new majority by trying to suppress opposing viewpoints and there are going to be a lot of controversial issues that go before the Judiciary Committee in the next two years,” he said in an interview on Fox News. “If they start to run it like a kangaroo court, it’s going to really hurt their credibility and ultimately show that they’re not about getting facts out, they’re just trying to promote a leftist agenda, and that would be a mistake on their part.”

The incident is something of an object lesson for Scalise in the new reality on Capitol Hill. Last year as the Majority Whip he held a great deal of power despite doing a tough job — the Whip has to corral majorities for legislation, something which is often thankless given the compromises necessary to find 218 votes on a given issue. But now, in the minority as Nancy Pelosi and her cabal of jacobins and loons have taken over, he’s relegated to such insignificance that Congress isn’t interested in his testimony about being shot less than two years ago.

The Judiciary Committee snub wasn’t the only such lesson. Also last week, Scalise and Missouri Republican Ann Wagner sought a discharge petition to bring the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would address the topic of infanticide made prominent by the insane statements of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam about making infants comfortable while mothers and doctors confer about whether to murder them, to the floor.

That effort is going nowhere, as the Democrat majority is so deeply captive of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry that three separate times Scalise’s efforts at unanimous consent for the bill have failed.

The fact is, Scalise is the closest thing to a Maytag repairman there is in the House. The Minority Whip has very little to do other than to tilt at windmills — unless it’s to call around to Republicans and get commitments they’ll vote against the Hard Left bills Nancy Pelosi is pushing through the House. And meanwhile he’s not even welcome to testify in committees on subjects he knows more about than the members.

That’s what awaits Scalise in Washington for the next two years.

Beyond 2020, it might get a little better. The Democrats don’t particularly have the look of a lasting majority given the nutty quality of their leadership and Pelosi’s rather feeble attempts to reel in her lesser members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose Green New Deal rollout last week was nothing short of comedic gold, or the anti-Semitic stylings of Ilhan Omar (D-Al Shabab).

But for Scalise, retaking the majority is nice — but does it really serve his political ambitions? He’s currently the right-hand man to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), and Scalise has maintained that he will not challenge McCarthy for a leadership position. If a resurgent GOP were to win back the House, that might make Scalise the Majority Leader and McCarthy Speaker of the House.

But the problem is McCarthy doesn’t have enough support to be Speaker — he didn’t when the job was last open to a Republican, after John Boehner quit the House, and there is no reason to think that’s changed. And unless Scalise is willing to run against his friend, there is a very good chance a future Republican-majority House will have a Speaker whose ascension looks like the one Paul Ryan made in succeeding Boehner. That leave Scalise as the Whip… again. Assuming the new Speaker doesn’t want to make a clean break of the House’s former leadership and bring in all new people.

It seems a fairly humdrum, if not bleak, future. But Scalise has options — and back home in Louisiana there are growing rumors those options may include the governor’s mansion. This despite the fact Scalise declared last year he was not a candidate.

John Bel Edwards, the Democrat incumbent governor of the state, is up for re-election this fall. Edwards’ poll numbers aren’t the best, despite the fact his two current Republican opponents — Rep. Ralph Abraham of the small Northeast Louisiana town of Alto and Baton Rouge industrial construction magnate Eddie Rispone — aren’t very well known around the state yet. The smart money says one of the two between Abraham and Rispone will beat Edwards in the runoff after a jungle primary in which Edwards will run first, simply because Louisiana is a red state and Edwards has done little to change the fundamental political dynamics. In every contested Louisiana election since 2015, when Edwards defeated Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter in the gubernatorial runoff, Democrats have been clobbered by Republicans.

Meaning that the Louisiana GOP probably doesn’t need Steve Scalise to run in order to retake control of the governor’s mansion. Almost everybody in the state figures, though, that if he did run he’d make that victory a certain thing.

And for Scalise, running for governor is a lot surer way to fulfill national political ambitions.

After all, there are only three major political races of note around the country this year. They’re all gubernatorial races — in Kentucky, in Mississippi, and in the Bayou State. Gov. Matt Bevin isn’t overly popular in Kentucky but it’s not thought the Democrats have a candidate who can beat him, while Democrats have no chance to win in Mississippi. So the Louisiana race, with an incumbent Democrat under siege in a red state, is the one likely to draw all the national money (Edwards has already banked some $8.4 million for his re-election campaign) and attention. If Scalise, who has a national presence as the second highest-ranking House Republican and the notoriety over surviving that assassination attempt, were to get into that race he would soon become the highest-profile GOP political figure in America not named Donald Trump.

And if, as expected, he were to beat Edwards, Scalise would be the face of the resurgent Republican Party. That might not be enough to put him in line to run for president in 2024, but he would be in the conversation (Vice President, perhaps?) if things went well for him as Louisiana’s governor. And with two terms to run Louisiana with what promises to be a state legislature far more conservative than it’s ever been thanks to term limits all but wiping out white Democrats in that legislature, Scalise would have the opportunity to rip out completely the Huey Long populist structure still prevalent in the state, perhaps allowing it to rise off the bottom of so many public policy metric rankings.

Your best opportunity to win Coach of the Year is to take over a cellar-dweller and put it into the playoffs, after all, and that’s the opportunity two terms as governor of Louisiana, the Cleveland Browns of state governments, offers. And Scalise would be finished with those two terms in January of 2028, which could put him in a position as the GOP favorite in that cycle assuming there isn’t a Republican incumbent at that point.

All this is waiting for Scalise. It’s a far different set of circumstances than his current reality, where he has to beg Jarrod Nadler for a few minutes of time to offer testimony.

Those rumors about Scalise’s potential entry into the governor’s race might only grow. Why he’s not already in it is the real mystery.

Scott McKay
Scott McKay
Follow Their Stories:
View More
Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics.
Sign Up to receive Our Latest Updates! Register