The news media on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 picked up some old news that is bound to hurt the Republican Party just as the new session of Congress is about to begin, in 2002 the new Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-LA spoke and was honored at the convention of a white supremacist group. The story was picked up from a blog post authored by Louisiana politics writer Lamar White Jr. on his blog “Celamar” entitled “House Majority Whip Steve Scalise Was Reportedly an Honored Guest at 2002 International White Supremacist Convention,” and posted on Sunday, Dec. 28. Scalise through his spokesperson admitted to speaking at the event, but denied sympathizing or having knowledge of the organization’s views. Still the story went viral, causing Scalise team to work overtime to deny any association with a group that could be considered political suicide.
Scalise, 49 is the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, being first voted into that position this past June; he was first voted in to the House in 2008 during a special election. In 2002, he was just a state representative in the Louisiana Legislature, when he spoke at European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) New Orleans convention. David Duke, a former Klu Klux Klan leader founded the group that has associations with Neo-Nazi organizations. As the Associated Press noted the Southern Poverty Law Center “classifies” EURO as a “hate group.” On the SPKLC’s website they described it as “Beyond hosting a Web site, whitecivilrights.com, and staging an occasional conference, EURO is a paper tiger, serving primarily as a vehicle to publicize Duke’s writing and sell his books.”
Scalise head on responded to the accusation, through his communications aide and spokesperson Moira Bagley Smith, who confirmed that Scalise did speak at the organization conference but about “conservative fiscal policies.” Smith issued a statement emphasizing positive elements the economic policies he supported and still does, trying to show that the majority whip was so dedicated to theses fiscal issues he spoke to any group that would allow him, but he did not pay attention to their background and history. Smith explained; “Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families.”
After painting Majority Whip Scalise as incredibly dedicated to Republican economic policies, she then proceeded to denounce the organization and that the Majority Whip never been involved with EURO and similar groups and does not believe in their philosophies. Smith continued by declaring Scalise “has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.”
As calm as Smith sounded in the official statement, the Majority Whip’s office was in a frenzy this afternoon in an attempt to control the story, and make that that will not result in a call for a early resignation from Scalia’s powerful post in the House. The Washington Post reported that aides and advisors contacted “reporters” and colleagues in the House trying to downplay the whole situation. They dumbed down the majority whip, saying that at that point he was a “disorganized and ill-prepared young politician who didn’t pay close attention to invitations.” His office is trying to make it seem as if he blindly spoke at any organization and place that would allow him, but cannot produce his records from that time.
Ignorance however, is not an excuse for an apparently ambitious politician looking to move up the ladders of power. A former advisor sent out an email to the Washington Post using that poor excuse. The advisor, who asked to remain anonymous described that “It was a crazy time and I doubt there was a lot of checking up on who was who. It really wasn’t until 2004 that he started sitting down and evaluating speaking engagements and questionnaires. Even then he really didn’t get a handle on schedule until he ran for state senate in 2007 and then congress the year after.” Another anonymous close source told CNN; Scalise “has never affiliated with a white supremacist group. He doesn’t have hate in his heart the way that these disgusting people do.”
In his original blog post from Sunday, White recounted Scalise’s involvement and the conference from May 2002 sold as a “workshop on civil rights” which was essentially a neo-Nazi event, held for two days at the Landmark Best Western Hotel in Metairie, LA. White described Duke as “a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, former Louisiana State Representative, and former Republican candidate for Louisiana governor, was attempting to rebrand his movement into something more palatable and less incendiary, and the ambiguous-sounding EURO seemed to do the trick.”
White took to Twitter to respond to Scalise’s statements on the conference, tweeting and retweeting a series of posts that prove the majority whip did share similar views as Duke and was aware of what he stood for. White also retweeted a post by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs which noted, “Rep. Steve Scalise not only knew who David Duke was – he actually _praised_ Duke’s “conservative views” in 1999’s Louisiana special election.” White also retweeted a post by Andrew Tuzzolo which noted that “Rep. Steve Scalise not only knew who David Duke was – he actually _praised_ Duke’s “conservative views” in 1999’s Louisiana special election.”
The Washington Post noted that Scalise could not have been blind to EURO, it mission and views and the convention’s purpose, since it was well publicized in the press from that time, and even the hotel renting the space denounced and attempted to distance themselves from the group’s views. EURO’s activities in the weeks and months preceding were documented in national papers including USA Today and the Washington Post, their protests supporting flying the Confederate flag in South Carolina capitol, and prosecuting black youth. The media attention makes it difficult for Scalise to give the excuses he is trying pass off to his colleagues, the media and public. Even conservatives find it unbelievable that the majority whip could have been clueless about Duke his positions and his organization.
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-TX, who is a “prominent Hispanic in Congress,” responded telling the Washington Post “It’s hard to believe, given David Duke’s reputation in Louisiana, that somebody in politics in Louisiana wasn’t aware of Duke’s associations with the group and what they stand for. If that’s the case and he agreed to join them for their event, then I think it’s a real test for Speaker Boehner as to whether Congressman Scalise should remain in Republican leadership.” While well known conservative Erick Erickson, who writes for RedState.com responded on Twitter and on his blog, questioning, “How do you not know? How do you not investigate? How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”
The new Republican controlled 114th Congress is already ready facing scandal, and giving Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH a headache, even before it has begun. First Rep. Michael Grimms, R-NY pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, but refused to resign, despite facing three years in prison upon sentencing in June. Another Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-TX is facing a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former staffer, which also accuses him of being a drunk. Now news of the majority whip’s involvement with a racist organization, is threatening to tarnish the Republican Party’s hope to capture the White House in 2016.
The GOP is hoping to paint itself as a more inclusive party welcoming to all minority groups symbolized by some of their newly elected representatives, counting two African Americans reps, including Mia Love from Utah widely considered a rising star and a Jewish one from the Democratic stronghold New York. The GOP needs this open image to attract voters that have traditionally remained bound to the Democratic Party, including African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Asians and other minority groups. A leader in the Republican Party with questionable associations even in the past to racist groups and leaders, could potentially damage all that the GOP has been building up. Although very few in the GOP leadership ranks want to rash and address the issue now, it will have to be dealt with, not treat the public just as ignorantly as Scalise and his staff are trying to portray him.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.