House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, in his first appearance before the national press since admitting to appearing before a white supremacist conference, offered up few new details on the incident Wednesday at an appearance with other House GOP leaders.
“I said I reject any form of bigotry, bigotry of all kinds,” Scalise told reporters at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “I’ll refer you back to my statement. I think that’s where the story ends.”
The Louisiana lawmaker issued a written statement December 30 addressing his 2002 appearance at former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) conference, calling it ”a mistake I regret.”
Speaker John Boehner, who has stood by Scalise, reiterated his support and said his own experience as an Ohio state legislator corroborated the Louisiana lawmaker’s claim that he was unaware at the time he had addressed the EURO event.
“I, like Mr. Scalise, served in the state legislature,” Boehner said. “I remember my freshman term in the state legislature when I had a half of a staffer. You get asked to speak to a lot of groups and I think Mr. Scalise made it clear that he made an error in judgment.”
Boehner added: “Now, I know this man. I work with him. I know what’s in his heart. He’s a decent honest person who made a mistake. We’ve all made mistakes.”Democrats are unlikely to let the matter drop. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Scalise’s ongoing position in leadership “says a lot about what the [Republican] conference’s priorities and values are.” Democratic leaders in Congress have also criticized Scalise over the 2002 incident. Earnest cited Louisiana reporter Stephanie Grace’s claim that Scalise told her he was “like David Duke without the baggage” in his remarks. Asked about the “baggage” line by a reporter on Wednesday, Scalise denied making the comment.
Scalise has offered little information as to how he ended up at the event. A longtime Duke aide, Kenny Knight, told the Washington Post he had invited Scalise based on their personal relationship as friends and neighbors. Knight later told other reporters that he only brought Scalise to speak to a neighborhood association taking place at the same venue as the EURO event and not the white nationalist gathering itself, raising the odd possibility Scalise admitted speaking at a conference he did not actually attend. Either way, Knight’s comments invite the question of why Scalise was accepting invitations from a close Duke ally.
Scalise’s office has not responded to requests from msnbc regarding Knight’s comments.