House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has spent the last 24 hours scrambling to prevent a political disaster. At this point, it appears the Louisiana Republican’s efforts are working in his favor.
The day after the public learned that he spoke at a white-supremacist event in 2002, Scalise issued another written statement this afternoon. And though he still hasn’t apologized, the GOP leader talked about his state legislative efforts at the time and argued, “One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”
Of course, the question was never whether or not Scalise would express contrition and distance himself from white nationalists. Rather, the question was whether his Republican colleagues would give him a pass.
And now we appear to have an answer.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued the following statement in support of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA):“More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate. 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.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also expressed public support for Scalise this afternoon, saying in a press release, “I’ve known him as a friend for many years and I know that he does not share the beliefs of that organization.”
To date, the grand total of congressional Republicans publicly criticizing Scalise for attending the white-supremacist gathering is … zero. The far-right Louisianan, at least publicly, hasn’t faced any intra-party rebukes at all. One imagines he and Boehner had a chat, and the Speaker asked whether there were any other potential revelations the party should worry about.
If such a conversation took place, Scalise must have given an answer Boehner & Co. found satisfying.
And as striking as this may sound, it’s starting to appear as if this controversy will soon fade barring additional revelations.
I’ll confess that my instincts and expectations on this were apparently off-base – 24 hours ago, I assumed Scalise’s career as a Republican leader was likely to end fairly quickly. With the Trent Lott controversy in mind, it seemed implausible that a member of the GOP leadership would attend a white-nationalist event, at the invitation of a group led by a neo-Nazi, and that Republicans just wouldn’t care.
This morning, the details seemed even worse. Between Scalise’s comments about David Duke in 1999 and the fact that he was invited to white-supremacist gathering by a top Duke aide, it seemed like a toxic combination for any American politician in the 21st century.
And yet, here we are.
Looking ahead, the image foremost on my mind is of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus who, to his credit, visited quite a few predominantly African-American churches and communities after the 2012 election, trying to convey sincerity about Republican outreach to minority voters.
The next time Priebus makes such an appearance, I’m honestly not sure what he’ll say when a local leader asks, “Why did your party not care about a Republican leader speaking at a white-nationalist event, organized by a neo-Nazi’s organization?”