By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Steve Scalise, the Republican leader wounded in a gunman’s attack on Wednesday on people practicing for a charity baseball game, is a staunch conservative and key figure in trying to push legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives.
Scalise was shot in the hip on Wednesday morning as he and other Republican lawmakers practiced for a game against their Democratic rivals in Congress. He was in critical condition after surgery at a Washington hospital.
As the majority whip in the House, the 51-year-old Scalise is responsible for rounding up votes and maintaining order among the Republican Party’s fractious ranks.
He is in the job largely as a bridge to conservative groups inside the House Republican caucus, but he has struggled at times to prevent them from stymyimg the agenda of the Republican leadership.
Widely seen as well-liked among colleagues, many paid tribute to him in the hours after the attack.
Scalise first went to Congress in 2008 following a decade in the Louisiana state legislature, and quickly ascended into the ranks of party leadership.
An ardent supporter of Trump inside the Republican Party, he has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group that fights for gun-ownership rights.
Scalise is popular inside his deeply conservative Louisiana district, which encircles New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain and includes the swampy bayou region where the Mississippi River spills into the Gulf of Mexico.
He won re-election in November with 75 percent of his district’s vote.
Before becoming majority whip, Scalise was chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 170 conservative lawmakers.
In 2014, Scalise’s office confirmed he had addressed a white supremacist group connected to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in 2002 when he was a state representative.
Seeking to play down the controversy, Scalise’s office said he had spoken to hundreds of groups during his political career and was unaware of the views of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
Scalise has played shortstop in the annual congressional baseball game, which began more than a century ago and pits Democrats against Republicans to raise money for charity.
“Knowing Steve Scalise as we all do, he is likely really frustrated that he will not be able to play in the baseball game,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a speech about the attack from the House floor on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Kieran Murray and Tom Brown)