BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two national civil rights leaders are reviving criticism of a top-ranking House Republican's speech to a white supremacist group 13 years ago, trying to jumpstart action on a proposed strengthening of the Voting Rights Act.
Marc Morial of the National Urban League and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter criticizing Majority Whip Steve Scalise — the House's third-ranking GOP member — for inaction on efforts to revise the 50-year-old law.
The men referenced Scalise's admission that he spoke in 2002 to a white supremacist group near New Orleans. Scalise apologized last year for the speech and said he was unaware of the group's racial philosophy when he agreed to speak as a state legislator.
Morial and Henderson said Scalise hasn't done enough "to heal the wounds you caused by delivering the speech" and has fallen short of a proper response.
"Your past actions have cast you as part of the problem. We invited you to join our efforts to become part of the solution," Morial and Henderson wrote in an Aug. 6 letter that was released Wednesday by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have called for legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court decision struck down one of its major provisions, which required all or parts of 15 states including Louisiana to get federal approval before making elections changes.
But it's highly unlikely the GOP-led Congress would update the law.
In response to the criticism, Scalise spokesman Chris Bond said in a statement the Louisiana congressman "discusses a wide range of important issues in his regular conversations with members of Congress, including leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, where he works to find common ground and advance their shared values."
Scalise's office suggested that common ground was more likely to be found on bipartisan criminal sentencing reform efforts.
Morial and Henderson met with Scalise in February, less than two months after the House leader admitted he spoke to a Louisiana convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, called EURO, which was founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Part of their request at the time, Morial and Henderson said, was that Scalise help advance the Voting Rights Act legislation.
"We laid out a clear plan to aid in efforts to heal the wounds you caused by delivering that speech. We explained the need for action, and you offered to help," Morial and Henderson wrote. "That offer has rung hollow."
Their letter was sent on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats say the law's impact has been eroded by voter ID requirements and other voting restrictions they say disenfranchise minorities and young people.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this story.