By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives put bitter party divisions aside for a long standing ovation on Thursday as Representative Steve Scalise returned for the first time since he was shot and wounded in June.
Leaning on a cane but walking on his own, Scalise, 51, entered a packed House chamber to applause and loud cheers from his fellow members of Congress.
"You have no idea how great this feels to be back here at work in the people's House," said Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the chamber, standing at a desk in the Republican section after he was greeted with hugs and high-fives from members of his own party and Democrats.
He thanked the Capitol police officers he credited with saving his life, world leaders who had contacted him and members of his medical team, who were sitting in the crowded visitors gallery overlooking the House floor.
House Speaker Paul Ryan's voice cracked as he introduced Scalise. "The chair wishes to mark the return of our dear friend and colleague from Louisiana, Mr. Steve Scalise," Ryan said. "Our prayers have been answered."
Scalise gave an emotional speech, interrupted by frequent applause, thanking his family and referring to innate optimism he partly attributed to being from Louisiana, referring to the attitude of "joie de vivre" (joy of life) in a state with a heavy French influence.
"When I come back into this chamber today, just seeing the faces of all of you, it just means more than you can imagine," Scalise said.
Scalise was among Republican lawmakers attacked June 14 in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, by a gunman who opened fire on them while they were practicing for a charity baseball game against Democrats.
He underwent repeated surgeries before being released from the hospital in late July.
Scalise was shot in the hip by a gunman who had a history of posting angry messages against Republican President Donald Trump.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler)