Steve Scalise Once Tried to Woo Hollywood — the Results Weren't Pretty

Steve Scalise and Frank Luntz - Split - Getty - H 2017
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The congressman, who is in stable condition after he was shot Wednesday, was introduced to a group of Hollywood liberals at a gathering, one film producer recalls: "Before he was assaulted physically on the baseball field, he was assaulted verbally at the dinner."

Media profiles of Steve Scalise usually note his conservative bona fides — low taxes, strong defense, travel ban, defund Planned Parenthood, etc. But the Republican congressman who was shot by a gunman on Wednesday isn’t averse to reaching across the proverbial aisle and, in fact, did just that in the most left-leaning of enclaves: Hollywood.

The results were not so good.

Scalise was the highest-ranking of six GOP representatives who appeared three years ago at the home of pollster Frank Luntz. The soiree, off the record until now, was meant to introduce conservative lawmakers to high-profile Democrats (and a few Republicans), and attendees included many in the entertainment industry.

Actor Richard Dreyfuss was there, as were former writers for Seinfeld, The West Wing and other popular TV shows, and there were several directors and producers who prefer to remain anonymous.

Luntz built his Los Angeles home for just these sorts of events. The 14,000-square-foot house includes a replica of the Oval Office and Lincoln Bedroom, and his artifacts include the signatures of every American president. There’s a bowling alley, indoor shooting range and five-wall racquetball court. He custom-crafts his gatherings to encourage friendly political debate, though he acknowledges now that the Scalise event was anything but.

“It got very heated very quickly, and several people left before it was over,” Luntz tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I took offense. My house is meant to be a place for intellectual conversation where people can agree to disagree.”

The primary issue back then, says Luntz and others who were at the party, was that Democrat attendees were angry with GOP representatives for obstructing then-President Obama’s agenda.

“It’s ironic. Now the shoe is on the other foot,” Luntz says.

Some of the angrier Democrats that night shouted at Scalise and his colleagues and some even called them nasty names, though Scalise, in particular, kept his cool under fire.

“Before he was assaulted physically on the baseball field, he was assaulted verbally at the dinner a few years ago, and many of us were shocked at the total lack of civility,” recalls producer Mark Joseph (The Vessel, starring Martin Sheen, and Max Rose, starring Jerry Lewis). “It turned nasty very quickly, to the point where Frank just called it a day,” adds Joseph, a registered independent. “It was embarrassing to him, and to us, that some members of the group couldn’t debate but rather chose to launch ad-hominem attacks.”

Luntz says he was so distraught, in fact, that he cut back on similar events, holding just two of them since then, one featuring former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and another featuring some well known journalists.

Despite the hostility that evening, “Scalise was always smiling and incredibly engaging. He stayed longer than any member and shook more hands than anyone,” Luntz says.

“It really bothered me,” he adds. “My house is known for great food, great conversation, great fun. I designed it that way. The Scalise event really bothered me.”