Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise was all set to move into the number three position among House Republican leadership, when an inconvenient fact surfaced: Scalise had addressed a white supremacist group in 2002. Now, Scalise, and other GOP leaders, are in full damage control mode.
The Washington Post says that Scalise admits to speaking at a convention of the “European-American Unity and Rights Organization,” or “EURO,” but a Scalise adviser says that the congressman didn’t know of the group’s connection to neo-Nazi and other racist groups. The group was founded by former Klan leader David Duke.
On December 29, Scalise spoke to the Times-Picayune, his hometown newspaper. In a desperate attempt at damage control, Scalise said:
When you look at the kind of things they [EURO] stand for, I detest these kinds of views. As a Catholic, I think some of the things they profess target people like me. A lot of their views run contradictory to the way I run my life.
I don’t support some of the things I have read about this group. I don’t support any of the things I have read about this group, but I spoke to a lot of groups during that period.
Scalise would not directly answer a question about whether he would remember speaking to a group affiliated with David Duke. Instead, he replies, “David Duke was never at any group I spoke to.” Scalise also says that had he known what the group was all about, he would not have gone to speak to them. In those days, he says, “I was without the advantages of a tool like Google. It’s nice to have those. Those tools weren’t available back then.”
Steve Benin, writing at The Maddow Blog, notes that Google was founded in 1998, and was being used by millions by 2002.
Scalise’s claim of ignorance about EURO is being questioned, even on the right.
If Steve Scalise is expecting cover from right wing media, he might be disappointed. Erick Erickson asks the question on his Red State blog, “How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?” Erickson says, in the same piece, that by 2002, “everybody knew that Duke was still the man he had claimed not to be. EVERYBODY.” [Emphasis in original]
Further complicating matters is David Duke himself, who says that Steve Scalise is a “nice guy.” Duke says that he spoke to the conference by phone, and by video hookup, but he says he didn’t hear Scalise speak, and he doesn’t know if Scalise heard him speak.
Roll Call points out that Scalise was certainly familiar with Duke. Scalise said in a 1999 interview, that he shared many of Duke’s conservative views. At that time, Scalise indicated that his main concern about Duke was that Duke was not electable.
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.
Hard right members of the House are lining up to support Scalise. Iowa representative Steve King indicated that he stands behind Scalise, and he believes other conservatives in the House will do likewise. “Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners. It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, it’s the sick,” says King. “Given that piece of Scripture, and understanding that Scalise probably wasn’t staffed thoroughly, I could understand how something like this happened.”
For his part, David Duke is threatening to name names, if Republicans decide to throw Scalise under the bus. In an interview with Fusion, Duke says, “If Scalise is going to be crucified — if Republicans want to throw Steve Scalise to the woods, then a lot of them better be looking over their shoulders.”
It’s interesting that the same sort of thing that killed Trent Lott’s career in 2002 seems to be of little concern to Republicans in 2014 with Steve Scalise. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated his support for Scalise, and, according to Steve Benin, not a single GOP office holder has publicly said that Scalise should step down from his leadership position.
Image via The Hayride