It was just two weeks ago that Americans learned that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R), during his tenure as a Louisiana state lawmaker, spoke at a white-supremacist gathering in 2002. Within a few hours of the story breaking, Republican leaders would only say that they were “aware of” the story and were “monitoring” developments,
One assumes that Scalise probably had a chat or two with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who very likely asked whether there were any other embarrassing revelations on the way. Within a few days, however, it seemed as if the GOP was satisfied that Scalise didn’t realize he was speaking to a white-supremacist group, and the Majority Whip kept his post.
And while it’s true that there haven’t been any bombshell disclosures, we continue to learn details that bring the larger context into sharper focus. The Hill reported this morning:
Six years before he spoke to a white supremacist group, while he was a state legislator, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) voted against a resolution apologizing for slavery, according to a 1996 article from New Orleans’s Times-Picayune.Scalise later backed a watered-down version that expressed “regret” for slavery. But the article identifies him as one of two lawmakers on the Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee who tried to kill the original resolution, which apologized to African-Americans for the state’s role “in the establishment and maintenance of the institution of slavery.”
The entire text of the 1996 article from the New Orleans paper is not available online, but it is accessible by way of the Lexis-Nexis database and The Hill’s description appears to be entirely accurate.
At the time, Louisiana’s Governmental Affairs Committee was going to approve a resolution apologizing for slavery, but it was changed to instead express “regret.” Scalise, according to the Times-Picayune was one of only two committee members who tried to kill the original resolution, before it was amended.
“Why are you asking me to apologize for something I didn’t do and had no part of?” Scalise was quoted as saying at the time. “I am not going to apologize for what somebody else did.”
If I can go ahead and answer that question 19 years later, note that in English, “sorry” is arguably a word with some nuance. For example, if you know someone who’s lost a loved one and you tell that person you’re “sorry,” you’re not confessing to murder – rather, you’re expressing sympathy for someone who’s grieving.
But when you have done something wrong and you apologize, you’re making an important acknowledgement and taking responsibility for misdeeds.
In 1996, the state of Louisiana considered whether to apologize for its role in treating human beings as pieces of property. Scalise apparently objected because he personally “had no part of” the slave trade. In other words, the Louisiana Republican badly missed the point – no one was asking him to personally accept responsibility for slavery; the resolution was about the state owning up to its own crimes.
These details were apparently lost on the lawmaker.
It’s also worth noting that Scalise, as recently as 2004, was one of only a handful of Louisiana lawmakers to vote against making Martin Luther King Day an official state holiday.
Andrew Prokop recently noted the Republican leader “does not have a record of friendliness to African-American causes.”