Politics & Government

House GOP leaders back Rep. Steve Scalise as he voices ‘regret’ for 2002 talk to white supremacist group

FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2014 file photo, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., right, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, following a House GOP caucus meeting. Scalise acknowledged that he once addressed a gathering of white supremacists. Scalise served in the Louisiana Legislature when he appeared at a 2002 convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization. Now he is the third-highest ranked House Republican in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2014 file photo, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., right, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, following a House GOP caucus meeting. Scalise acknowledged that he once addressed a gathering of white supremacists. Scalise served in the Louisiana Legislature when he appeared at a 2002 convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization. Now he is the third-highest ranked House Republican in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) AP

House Speaker John Boehner backed embattled House Majority Whip Steve Scalise Tuesday, noting that he made ‘an error in judgment’ in speaking to a white supremacist group in 2002 but praising him for acknowledging that his attendance at the group’s convention ‘was wrong and inappropriate.’

Boehner’s support, and that of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., came as Scalise, R-La., issued another statement expressing regret for his speaking at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a group backed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and identified by several civil rights organizations as a hate group.

‘More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate,’ Boehner said in a statement. ‘Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our Whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.’

McCarthy echoed Boehner’s sentiments.

‘Congressman Scalise acknowledged he made a mistake and has condemned the views that organization espouses,’ McCarthy said in a separate statement. ‘I’ve known him as a friend for many years and I know he does not share the beliefs of that organization.’

The day after Scalise and his allies said it was likely that he attended the EURO gathering, the House’s No. 3 Republican issued a new statement that firmly acknowledged that he was at the convention and expressed regret for his attendance.

‘Tweleve 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 corruption, and stopping tax hikes,’ the statement said. ‘One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose view I wholeheartedly condemn. I made a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold. I am very disappointed that anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain.’

Scalise issued his new remarks after enduring a morning of withering criticism from Democratic congressional campaign groups, from a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and from an influential conservative blogger.

They argued that his explanation that he was unaware, at that time, that he was speaking to a white supremacist group was a weak one. The story of Scalise’s appearance before the group was first reported by CenLamar.com, a Louisiana blog.

‘He didn’t know? The group was named the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, it was founded by David Duke…it doesn’t get much clearer than that,’ said Mo Elleithee, the DNC’s communications director. ‘That weak attempt at an explanation doesn’t pass the smell test and raises far more questions than it answers.’

Josh Schwerin, a DCCC spokesman, said Scalise ‘chose to cheerlead for a group of KKK and neo-Nazis at a white supremacist rally and now his fellow House Republicans can’t even speak up and say he was wrong.’

Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman said Scalise’s ‘involvement with a group classified by the Anti-Defamation League as anti-Semitic and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group is deeply troubling for a top Republican leader in the House.’

Scalise was also criticized in some conservative circles Tuesday. Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative blog RedState.com, questioned Scalise’s judgment.

‘He, like much of the Republican leadership, is so focused on putting electability over principle that it trips up his judgment,’ Erickson, wrote Tuesday. ‘So we can all agree that Scalise is a good person and we should all agree he is not racist. But if Scalise was the conservative his spokesmen would have us believe, there is no doubt in my mind he’d be boxing up his office today.’

Monday night, Erickson, a former Lousiana resident, wrote, “How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”

In addition to Boehner and McCarthy, Scalise has received support from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

‘I know Congressman Scalise to be a good man who is fair-minded and kindhearted,’ Jindal said Monday night. ‘I’m confident he absolutely rejects racism in all its forms.’

Richmond told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that ‘I don’t think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body.’ 

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