House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002, an explosive allegation that first surfaced Sunday on a Louisiana blog.
Scalise’s office acknowledged that he was making lots of speeches during that time period, as he built his political career, and it was “likely” he appeared before the group, an aide said.
Story Continued Below
However, Scalise will not definitively confirm that he spoke to the organization, founded by David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member, or that he knew what the group supported.
Louisiana Democrats mocked Scalise’s claim, calling it “ridiculous” as they sought additional information about the 2002 event.
However, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and other Bayou State Republicans backed Scalise – at least for now – and other House GOP leaders remained silent on the issue, providing Scalise with an opportunity to try to defuse the crisis, the most serious for him during his six months in leadership.
The 2002 speech by Scalise, now the third highest-ranking House Republican, was initially reported on CenLamar.com, the website of Lamar White Jr., a Louisiana progressive activist.
Scalise reportedly spoke at the National/International EURO Workshop on Civil Rights a dozen years ago while still serving in the state legislature, the website asserted.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) was founded in 2000 by Duke, who ran unsuccessfully for federal office several times. SPLC says EURO “claims to fight for ‘White Civil Rights’ for ‘Europeans and Americans Wherever They May Live.’”
Scalise’s spokeswoman did not specifically confirm his appearance before the group, but she would not rule it out either.
Moira Smith, Scalise’s communications director, also said the Louisiana Republican had nothing to do with EURO or its “abhorrent” views.
“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Smith said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
A Scalise aide said the Louisiana Republican “doesn’t remember speaking to this group and we don’t have any record of his agenda from ’02.” The aide said Scalise had just one staffer when he was a state representative.
But the Scalise aide Monday said he spoke at that hotel “a lot” and frequently talked about a ballot initiative that would’ve impacted the slush fund being described. If he did speak to the group, the Scalise aide said, he “didn’t know they were a white supremacist group.”
Scalise was elected House majority whip in June after former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was defeated in a GOP primary.
White’s website cited a description of Scalise’s appearance at the EURO event that was originally posted on Stormfront, which describes itself as “the voice of the new, embattled White minority.”
Scalise reportedly “discussed ways to oversee gross mismanagement of tax revenue or ‘slush funds’ that have little or no accountability,” White said, quoting Stormfront.
“Representative Scalise brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft within the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent give-away to a selective group based on race,” White wrote, quoting the post on Stormfront.
A few years later, the same user who described Scalise’s speech said he should run for Congress if Duke did not, saying that Scalise offered “his support for issues that are of concern to us.” Scalise was elected to Congress in 2006.
Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, said he backed Scalise in a statement released by his office.
“I know Congressman Scalise to be a good man who is fair-minded and kind-hearted. I’m confident he absolutely rejects racism in all its forms,” Jindal said.
But Louisiana Democrats said Scalise faces many questions about how he ended up the EURO conference and why he didn’t know the group was affiliated with Duke, a well-known figure in Bayou State politics.
“It’s disturbing to learn that Congressman Scalise has admitted that he spoke to an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group and the Anti-Defamation League characterizes as anti-Semitic,” said Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. “It’s even more disturbing to hear that his allies are trying to sweep this incident under the rug by blaming Scalise’s staff and claiming the then-state representative didn’t know the group’s ideology. That’s ridiculous… If someone in Louisiana didn’t know about David Duke’s beliefs in 2002, they must have been hiding under a very large rock somewhere.”
Handwerk added: “Which leads to some uncomfortable questions. … Who exactly invited Scalise in the first place? Was it David Duke? Duke addressed the group via teleconference. Wasn’t Scalise present during Duke’s remarks? And what exactly did Scalise say that so impressed the attendees that they were raving about his appearance several years later? Has he accepted any subsequent invitations from the group? Has he accepted any campaign contributions from the organization’s members? Voters deserve answers to these questions.”
Republican control of Washington begins next week, and it’s getting off to a rough start, at least for House Republicans.
In addition to Scalise allegedly speaking to a white supremacist group, New York Rep. Michael Grimm pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion in federal court and is preparing to resign this week, according to GOP sources.
And Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold is facing a civil suit filed by his former spokeswoman that alleges improper behavior in his congressional office. Farenthold has denied any wrongdoing.