House Republican Steve Scalise (R-La.) is doing some backtracking as to why he spoke at a white supremacist meeting in 2002. The high-ranking GOP Majority Whip was forced to defend the fact he was a guest speaker at a well-known white nationalist organization, founded in 2000 and led by a former KKK Grand Wizard.
Fallout from the news has put Scalise’s “leadership position in jeopardy,” with Democrats unleashing a “wave of criticism against Scalise, tying him to the rest of Republican leadership, which is days away from kicking off a new congressional term with the GOP controlling both chambers,” reports CNN.
Writes the HuffPost on Dec. 29: “Twelve years before he was elected by his colleagues as House majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise spoke at a conference hosted by the white supremacist group European-American Unity and Rights Organization. Louisiana political blogger Lamar White Jr. dug up a number of posts on Stormfront, one of the original white supremacist websites, which placed Scalise at the 2002 EURO gathering.”
Scalise acknowledged that he spoke at the conference, but quickly distanced himself from the notion he shares in their ideals. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the organization as an “extremist hate group.”
Scalise’s spokesperson Moira Bagley Smith said: “Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Smith commented. “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. He 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.”
The 49-year-old Scalise issued a brief statement, saying: “I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous.”
Adds the Huff Post: “Two years after speaking at the conference, Scalise was one of just six state representatives who voted to oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday in Louisiana. That was at least the second time Scalise had voted against an MLK holiday. He was one of three lawmakers to vote against it in 1999, too.”
The admission could easily crinkle the Republican’s determination to reach out to minorities come 2016. Democrats immediately set about hammering Scalise, saying it’s incredulous that he could not have known who he was speaking in front of.
Josh Schwerin, the National Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was quick to jump on the news. “Steve Scalise chose to cheerlead for a group of KKK members and neo-Nazis at a white supremacist rally and now his fellow House Republican Leaders can’t even speak up and say he was wrong,” Scherwin said.
In response, Scalise said that “at the end of the day, you are judged by your character. And look, I’m proud of my record of working to help people throughout my years of public service.”