At this point, there’s no real doubt that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the #3 Republican leader in the U.S. House, spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002, during his tenure in the state legislature. Scalise has said he has no records from that period, and there doesn’t appear to be any recording of the gathering, but the GOP lawmaker and his staff have acknowledged the appearance.
The discussion therefore shifts to related questions: What was Scalise thinking? What will this do to his career? Will the far-right Louisianan retain his leadership post?
The Republican congressman spoke to the Times-Picayune, his hometown paper, late yesterday, apparently hoping to address the burgeoning controversy before it spins out of control. Scalise told the New Orleans newspaper:
“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.”
According to the congressman’s explanation, the racist group extended an invitation to Scalise at the time and he accepted, not because he liked white nationalists, but because “when people called and asked me to speak to groups, I went and spoke to groups.”
Scalise has not apologized for speaking to the racist organization, though he did tell the Times-Picayune, “If I knew today what they were about, I wouldn’t go.”
And why didn’t he “know what they were about”? Scalise added, “I was without the advantages of a tool like Google.”
For the record, Google was founded in 1998 and widely used by millions of people in 2002. The Louisiana Republican could have searched for “European-American Unity and Rights Organization,” but for whatever reason, he chose not to at the time. Scalise also could have gone directly to the group’s website in 2002 – it was listed at WhiteCivilRights.com.
It’s also unclear exactly how his appearance unfolded. It’s not as if Scalise showed up, noticed he was surrounded by white supremacists, realized he’d accepted an invitation from a group led by a neo-Nazi, and then promptly walked out.
Erick Erickson, a prominent figure in Republican media, put it this way: “How do you show up at a David Duke event and not know what it is?”
Making matters slightly worse, Duke himself is defending Scalise, describing him as a “nice guy,” and saying it was two of his campaign aides who invited the lawmaker to participate in the white-nationalist event.
And Scalise certainly knew who Duke was, telling Roll Call in 1999:
Another potential candidate, state Rep. Steve Scalise (R), said he embraces many of the same “conservative” views as Duke, but is far more viable.“The novelty of David Duke has worn off,” said Scalise. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”
In hindsight, these comments do not appear to help Scalise’s case.
But will his colleagues care? Plenty of congressional Republicans publicly defended the Louisiana lawmaker last night, and as best as I can tell, not even one GOP lawmaker has said on the record that Scalise should step down from his leadership post.
In theory, this may seem like an automatic career-killer, but if House Republicans intend to stand by Scalise, and his constituents support him, too, then the House Majority Whip will fare far better than Trent Lott did under similar circumstances.