Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke Tuesday at a Republican leader news conference
Scalise and his colleagues addressed the Las Vegas shooting but not gun control
A tragedy strikes, and the country’s predictable gun debate barely begins in the halls of Congress before it’s over.
It was a routine news conference for GOP leadership, with one notable exception.
This was the first time Majority Whip Steve Scalise stood behind the podium at the weekly leadership presser and delivered remarks since he was shot at congressional baseball practice in June. He was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, saying Scalise’s return was a bright spot with “everything that’s going on in the world.”
As Scalise approached the lectern, the cameras captured a hand reach out and pat his shoulder. His colleagues –visibly moved – recounted devastating memories: Scalise in a coma, Scalise’s wife telling doctors not to underestimate the strength of her husband as he fought for his life.
“It’s great to see all of you and it’s great to be back,” Scalise said.
It was a proud moment for a legislative body that was rocked by gun violence just months ago.
“Just Steve being back here today, it’s evidence of the power of miracles. The power of prayer of us healing and getting back together,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said.
Even with Scalise on stage, however, Ryan noted “this is not a good day because we had an awful day two days ago.”
Scalise’s return to the presser came just two days after a shooting in Las Vegas killed 59 Americans, injured hundreds more and assumed the gruesome distinction as the deadliest shooting in modern US history. As Republican leaders spoke Tuesday morning about their friend and colleague Scalise, as they offered condolences to victims and spoke about ways Americans could help by donating blood, it was what no one was saying that revealed the future of the gun debate in Congress.
The Las Vegas shooting has left Congress once again struggling to find a consensus way to stop future attacks. Even for Republicans – who spoke eloquently Tuesday about how they experienced the heartache of gun violence firsthand with Scalise – the politics of guns on Capitol Hill have not changed.
Taking a question Tuesday about how Ryan could make Americans feel safer, the speaker talked about the House’s efforts to reform mental health in the country. The GOP-controlled House passed bipartisan mental health reforms last year and the mental health package was signed by President Barack Obama in 2016.
Ryan said Tuesday that the victims of the Vegas shooting would “need to heal. They need to grieve. They need to pray and we need to come together. and It’s just important that we reflect the fact that our hearts are with them.”
While GOP leaders didn’t announce any plans for a legislative action to the shooting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he and Nevada GOP Rep. Mark Amodei would be traveling on Air Force One on Wednesday to visit Las Vegas with President Donald Trump.
On the floor of the Senate, Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer was taking a different tact.
“We can’t banish evil or madness from the earth, but we sure can do what we can in our power to make our country a safer place. We need commonsense reforms and these reforms have broad public support in the face of tens of thousands of gun deaths every year,” Schumer said.
The fact is no one on Capitol Hill is under any allusions that the aftermath of Las Vegas will change congressional politics on guns. No one will tell you that Republicans and Democrats are going to see eye to eye now.
Even advocates who have been at the center of these debates before, don’t hide behind a forced tone of optimism that Congress is on the verge of changing its position on the issue.
“You know, I thought Sandy Hook would. I thought Columbine would. I thought 101 California would,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. “None of that did.”
The No. 2 House Democrat – Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland – repeatedly admitted he was “confounded” that opinion polls show majorities of Americans support several new restrictions on gun purchases, but that it hasn’t become a major issue in national political campaigns.
“This is not something that ought to stay in Las Vegas,” he told reporters.
Hoyer vowed he and others would continue to press for background checks and pressed for Ryan to appoint a bipartisan task force to address gun violence.
For now, reporters on Capitol Hill who ask about the future of gun control legislation know exactly what they will hear.
New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins summed it up when asked by CNN if any measures relating to guns would get a vote in Congress this year: “I think it’s safe to say in a Republican conference you’re not going to see those bills moving forward.”
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.