Steve Scalise is having quite a week.
On Tuesday, in honor of his 50th birthday, the House Republican whip threw a party at Washington’s Eastern Market, complete with charbroiled oysters, gumbo and an 80s cover band. His wife surprised him with a visit to Washington, just in time for the festivities, and he celebrated with friend Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who turns 40 on Oct. 22.
Of course, there was another reason for the celebration. Scalise told supporters on Sunday that he has enough votes to lock up the race for House majority leader, under the assumption that current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will succeed in his bid to replace John Boehner (R-Ohio) as speaker. The Eastern Market blowout was also a fundraiser for Whip It Good, a joint fundraising committee for Scalise and McHenry, who is running to replace his friend as whip.
If Scalise indeed has the votes, he’ll have executed a fast climb through the ranks of Republican leadership.
The Louisianan, elected in 2008, became Republican whip only last year after then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) surprise primary defeat threw GOP leadership into upheaval. Before that, he served as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee after beating Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) in a close race in November 2012. At the time, Scalise’s win was described as a “rebuke to the committee’s founding members,” who had lined up behind Graves. “Scalise was seen as the more favorable pick for the GOP leadership, less likely than Graves to continue as confrontational an approach,” The Hill reported.
Born in New Orleans, Scalise graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in computer science in 1989. He worked as a software engineer and a marketing executive before winning a state House seat in 1995, a job he held until he was elected to the state Senate in 2007. He didn’t stay in the job long and headed to Capitol Hill when he won a 2008 special election to replace Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), who resigned to become governor of Louisiana.
It was during his tenure in the state legislature that Scalise gave a speech that threatened his future in politics when it resurfaced late last year, first in the Louisiana blog CenLamar and then throughout the media.
Scalise had spoken to a group in 2002 led by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. His office admitted it was “likely” the speech took place, and as a political firestorm grew, Scalise said he regretted the decision.
“Twelve years ago, I spoke to many different Louisiana groups as a state representative, trying to build support for legislation that focused on cutting wasteful state spending, eliminating government corruption, and stopping tax hikes,” Scalise said in a statement on Dec. 30.
“One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn,” he said. “It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”
The controversy did not cost Scalise his leadership post and over time it died down.
He’s faced other challenges as whip, including criticism that he along with other leaders failed to secure the needed votes for some bills before they came to the floor. One such bill would have funded the Homeland Security Department at a time when a debate over immigration policies was raging in the GOP conference.
Nonetheless, he now appears poised to be the next majority leader.
“We’re over 124, but we’re not slowing down,” a person close to Scalise quoted him as saying. “We’re going to continue growing that number because the race isn’t over.”