House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Wednesday that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee refused to let him testify at a hearing on gun violence about his experience as a victim of the congressional baseball practice shooting two years ago. The move infuriated his fellow Republicans.
Scalise told Fox News that he found out over the weekend that Democrats had chosen not to allow his testimony at the hearing --“Preventing Gun Violence: A Call to Action” -- something he said is a courtesy traditionally extended to any lawmaker who wishes to speak.
“I thought it outrageous that they want to try to silence this message, because in the end I’m still going to get my message out. They can’t silence this issue,” he said.
Scalise was shot and injured in June 2017. But despite his experience and perspective, he said that committee Democrats said he would not able to testify -- although he could submit written testimony for the record, which he did.
“I was surprised, because it’s unprecedented,” he said. “In the past, when we were in charge on the Republican side, if the Democrats selected among one of their witnesses to be a sitting member of Congress, we always gave them the courtesy of testifying in a proper setting, and we were asking for that same courtesy -- and they denied it.”
A spokesman for the House Judiciary Democrats told Fox News that there were multiple members on both sides who wanted to be witnesses, and Republicans were given two of the eight slots on the panel -- and did not choose Scalise as one of their two designees. But Scalise’s office said there is a standard practice of having an extra member panel for those who are experts or who have experience of the topic, which was not allowed by Democrats in this case.
At the hearing itself on Wednesday, the decision led to a back-and-forth between Republican ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who said that due to the number of members who wanted to speak, it was decided that no members would be allowed to testify in order to save time.
“It’s a debatable decision,” Nadler said. “We decided that, rather than hear from a lot of our colleagues who have other opportunities to address this issue in Congress, we’d rather hear from the witnesses.”
Collins pushed back: “The uniqueness of Mr. Scalise’s testimony being denied this voice is tragic for all who attend and all who have been a part of that, especially from his perspective as a lawmaker who will be voting on and working with this issue, and just because he probably disagrees with the majority is no reason to keep him out.”
“He wasn’t denied because he disagrees,” Nadler later said. “Majority members, we decided we needed to have a hard and fast rule today or we’d be here all day with members.”
In his submitted written testimony, Scalise says he applauds the intent to pursue a reduction in gun violence, but that he does not support new gun control restrictions being considered in the hearing, and that the focus should be on stopping criminals instead. He argued that the measures proposed in legislation to ramp up background checks (known as H.R. 8) would not have prevented any recent mass shootings, nor would it have halted the gunman who shot him.
“Instead, whether intentionally or not, the gun control proposals in H.R. 8 could turn law-abiding citizens into criminals while also failing to achieve the stated purpose of reducing gun violence,” he said.
Gun control has long been a sensitive issue where Republicans and Democrats have struggled to find common ground. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said on Tuesday after President Trump’s State of the Union address that she was “saddened” that Trump did not mention gun violence.
“The president talked about security in so many ways and he totally ignored the gun violence epidemic in our country,” she said.
Scalise told Fox News that Democrats' decision to deny him a platform was a bad start for House Democrats going forward on hot-button issues.
“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. “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.”