Allegations surfaced earlier today that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) spoke at an international conference of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a white-supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; the group has also been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The event was reported to have taken place while Scalise was serving as a state representative in 2002 — more than 12 years ago — and while there were no recordings found from the event (at least at the moment), a neo-Nazi website documented Scalise’s presence there.
Now the Washington Post has confirmed the event, stating:
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white nationalist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002, thrusting a racial controversy into House Republican ranks days before the party assumes control of both congressional chambers.
The 48-year-old Scalise, who ascended to the House GOP’s third-ranking post earlier this year, confirmed through an adviser that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
Scalise has not yet commented on the incident. However, Moira Bagley, Scalise’s spokesperson, said in a statement that at that time he was unaware of the group’s ideology and neo-Nazi activists. She also dismissed the allegations.
“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. 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.”
Regarding the group’s policies, she added, “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.”
However, some political observers wonder if this will be a case of “too little, too late.” Republicans have been spending a tremendous amount of energy to improve their image among people of color, and having a House GOP leader who spoke at a white-supremacist event doesn’t help that initiative. As MSNBC noted:
…the same year that Scalise spoke to the white nationalists, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) ultimately lost his leadership post in the U.S. Senate after he said the nation would have been better off electing Strom Thurmond president in 1948 – the year Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform.”
Republican leaders decided the racial element of Lott’s comments was simply too much for the party to support. Scalise’s participation in a white-supremacist gathering is every bit as serious, if not more so.
More will undoubtedly unfold when the House meets again in the new year.
Photo for Steve Scalise White Supremacist Event: Getty Images