Editor's Note: With more details coming to light, it seems that Scalise didn't address a group of white nationalists in 2002. He addressed a crowd in a room at the same hotel where the white nationalist conference was being held. Nevertheless, it was probably not the wisest choice to accept an invitation to speak at this location from his neighbor Kenny Knight, who was David Duke's former campaign manager. Duke is a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Scalise also apologized for addressing the group, which was also a poor decision choice. Regardless, the post has been corrected to reflect these updates.
Yesterday, the discovery that Rep. Steve Scalise, who was a state representative at the time, addressed a group of locals at the same hotel where a white nationalist group was holding a conference in 2002 came out of left field–and took the GOP House leadership completely by surprise. Scalise was elected to House Majority Whip last summer, and is the third ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.
This is bad. Scalise said he didn’t have a scheduler with Google access, but as my colleague Erick Erickson wrote, “How do you show up at a David Duke event and not know what it is?”
Despite repudiation from Republicans, Duke was the GOP candidate in Louisiana’s gubernatorial election in 1991. He lost in the general to Democrat Edwin Edwards.
While it seems that Scalise and Duke aren’t close, he was in contact with Duke’s top aide and campaign manager, Kenny Knight. This is reportedly why he was invited to the 2002 European-American Unity and Rights Organization conference, where Scalise reportedly spoke for 15 minutes before leaving, according to Knight (via WaPo):
The crowd there was a “mixed” audience for Scalise, mostly local, and partly “people who are concerned about the survival of their race,” he added. “The thing is, I don’t think Scalise knew anything about EURO, about that latter group.”
Knight, who was also Scalise’s neighbor, said they never discussed “race of the Jewish question;” he told the Post that Scalise and him are totally on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to race, but they did “exchange ideas on politics.” He also mentioned that he doesn’t have a video of Scalise’s remarks, adding that such a video probably doesn’t exist.
Some have come to Scalise’s aid. The Louisiana GOP and Newt Gingrich stand behind him. Even his Democratic colleague from Louisiana, Rep. Cedric Richmond, told The Hill “I don't think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body.”
"Steve and I have worked on issues that benefit poor people, black people, white people, Jewish people. I know his character,” he added.
While Scalise acknowledged he spoke at the event 12 years ago, he doesn’t remember much (via the Times-Picayune) [bold text indicates Times-Picayune]:
Please walk me through how you came to appear at the white nationalist event.
"I don't have any records from back in 2002, but when people called and asked me to speak to groups, I went and spoke to groups. It was myself and [former state Sen.] James David Cain who were opposed to the Stelly tax plan.
I was the only legislator from the New Orleans area who was opposed to the plan publicly, so I was asked to speak all around the New Orleans region. I would go and speak about how this tax plan was bad.
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.
I was opposed to a lot of spending of spending at the state level. When people asked me to go speak, I went and spoke to any group that called."
You don't remember speaking at the event?
"I don't. I mean I've seen the blog about it. When you look at the kind of things they stand for, I detest these kinds of views. As a Catholic, I think some of the things they profess target people like me. At 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. I went all throughout South Louisiana.
I spoke to the League of Women Voters, a pretty liberal group. ... I still went and spoke to them. I spoke to any group that called, and there were a lot of groups calling.
I had one person that was working for me. When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go. I was, in no way, affiliated with that group or the other groups I was talking to. "
For Scalise to say “I don’t know” appears to be the politician’s equivalent of my dog ate my homework. Furthermore, the 2002 event was covered by the local media (via Daily Beast):
The 2002 EURO event in question also received local coverage, further undercutting any suggestion that Scalise was unaware of the group’s background. An alternative weekly newspaper in New Orleans, The Gambit, wrote in 2002 that a baseball team from Iowa refused to stay at the Best Western where EURO was holding its event, citing the organization’s “controversial views.”
This is not how the unified 114th Republican Congress was supposed to begin their upcoming session. We have Michael Grimm resigning over tax evasion, Steve Scalise embroiled in controversy over appearing at a white nationalist conference, and Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, who was slapped with a workplace discrimination lawsuit by a former staffer saying she was wrongly terminated. It doesn’t help that another aide told her that Farenthold had “sexual fantasies” about her, as reported by The Hill.
Instead of debating and legislating on things like the Keystone Pipeline, the economy, jobs, tax policy, and budget, we’ll have to go 45 rounds with the media to defend Mr. Scalise from allegations of racism; allegations that hold no merit. Nevertheless, KKK + Republican + South’s history = liberal media frenzy. This is the type of story they salivate over. Oh, and legal questions Farenthold will have to address could damage the GOP, which made significant gains with women voters and candidates after 2014.
We’ve certainly tripped over our own shoelaces.
To make matters worse, Roll Call interviewed David Duke in 1999, but also spoke with then-rising stars David Vitter and Steve Scalise:
“I honestly think his 15 minutes of fame have come and gone,” said state Rep. David Vitter (R), a wealthy Metairie attorney who holds Duke’s old seat in the state House and is “seriously considering” a Congressional bid. “When he’s competed in a field with real conservatives, real Republicans, Duke has not done well at all.”
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.”
Unlike Grimm, Scalise doesn’t have to resign from Congress, but he may have to step down from his leadership post. Yet, as Noah Rothman wrote over at Hot Air, there’s a long history of Democrats behaving badly, like not paying their taxes a la Sharpton and Rangel, but being “forgiven” by a media that–as many of you already know–have grossly different standards for Democratic and Republican lapses in ethics or judgment:
When the 114th Congress is inaugurated, the last Congress of the Obama presidency and one which will be dominated by Republican members, its mission will be derailed by the narrative that the third-ranking House GOP member once spoke before an audience of white supremacists. It is a narrative that will seriously hinder all the work the Republican Party desperately needs to do in appealing to minority voters. Scalise shouldn’t have to resign his office, but he may have to surrender his role in leadership.
Pressure is building on Scalise to do just that, but if he does he will also be holding himself to a higher standard than the one to which Democrats hold their own.
Rep. Harry Reid (D-NV) called the repentant late former Klansman Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), a Democrat who died in 2010 holding the office he had occupied since 1959, an
“His story was the true embodiment of the American dream,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“As I reflect on the full sweep of 92 years, it seems to me that his life bent toward justice,” Obama said of Byrd after his passing.
“Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality. That is a capacity to change, a capacity to learn, a capacity to listen, to be made more perfect.”
All is forgiven.
The media did not lean too heavily on Obama when he appointed an avowed communist, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and open supporter of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, Van Jones, to the position of “green jobs czar.”
And the pattern continues. The question is will Scalise still be House Whip for the 114th Congress?
Time will tell, but if Scalise does resign from the leadership, Nick Gillespie wrote a post over at Reason saying why his voting record is more troubling than his speaking engagements.
Right now, it seems John Boehner is backing his colleague:
“More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate. Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our Whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.”