By now, you probably already know that Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) once addressed a crowd of people in the same hotel where a white nationalist conference was being held in 2002. Scalise, a state representative at the time, spoke hours before the white nationalist meeting began, so it looks like this story turned out to be a big nothing burger. Republicans and Democrats came to Scalise’s aid, with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) saying that his colleague doesn’t have a “racist bone in his body.” With David Duke in the mix, Scalise, who’s the House Majority Whip, was bound to get some media attention over this allegation.
The Huffington Post reported that the person who set off this firestorm was a liberal blogger named Lamar White, Jr:
White was convinced of Scalise's association with white supremacists based on those posts, telling The Huffington Post that there “was no conceivable way that somebody would have planted this story 12 years ago.” White didn’t officially seek comment from Scalise's office before posting his story Sunday morning about the congressman's 2002 speech at a Marriott hotel in Metairie, Louisiana.
White said he was motivated to pursue the Scalise story because “even though it was 12 years ago, it is important because this man was 36 years old, a state representative, an elected official. He knew exactly what he was getting into.”
Scalise has claimed otherwise. "I didn't know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group,” he said Monday. “For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous."
You might remember White, who posted on his site CenLamar.com, for his defense of Wendy Davis during her 2014 gubernatorial campaign after she drew criticism for an ad that many said took a shot at Greg Abbott’s disability; Abbott is the Governor-elect of Texas, Davis’ Republican opponent, and confined to a wheelchair after a tree fell on him in 1984.
Right now, the GOP is standing behind Scalise (via AP):
Republican leaders defended Scalise within minutes of his statement. The new Congress, in which the GOP will control both the House and the Senate, convenes next week.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Scalise "made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate." Boehner said Scalise "has my full confidence as our whip."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said Scalise "acknowledged he made a mistake and has condemned the views that organization espouses. I've known him as a friend for many years and I know that he does not share the beliefs of that organization."
Democrats were measured in their criticisms. For instance, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's office issued a statement not from her but from her spokesman, Drew Hammill. It said Scalise's "involvement with a group classified by the Anti-Defamation League as anti-Semitic and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group is deeply troubling for a top Republican leader in the House. "
Given the new revelation that Scalise really didn’t address the white nationalist conference, why did he admit to doing it? Betsy Woodruff at Slate wrote about this odd part of the story. She also spoke to Kenny White, David Duke’s former campaign manager and Scalise’s former neighbor:
Rep. Steve Scalise may have just ineptly admitted to speaking at a white supremacist event that eyewitnesses say he never attended. Two event attendees say it’s factually inaccurate to characterize Scalise’s comments as directed at the supremacist gathering—even though Scalise’s own office has said the House majority whip spoke to the group 12 years ago.
According to Knight, the EURO conference was slated to start in the early afternoon, roughly around 1 p.m. But his reservation at the hotel gave him access to the conference space for a few hours before the event’s official kickoff. At the time, Knight headed the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, which was largely comprised of elderly people who lived in his and Scalise’s neighborhood.
Knight said he set up a morning event for his own civic association in the hotel space before the EURO conference started. Though that event was in the conference’s hospitality room, it wasn’t at all related to the EURO event, he said.
“It was my room to do what I want with it,” he said.
Knight invited then–state Rep. Scalise as well as a representative from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and a person from the American Red Cross to speak to the civic association at the hotel.
“I don’t think Steve was aware that there was a small contingent of people who came and sat in the audience prior to the EURO meeting,” Knight said.
As I previously noted, these were folks who were probably just curious or killing time before the white nationalist festivities began. Nevertheless, Knight is linked to former Grand Wizard David Duke, he’s given money to Scalise, and invited him to speak at a hotel where white nationalists were gathering. This is horrible judgment on the part of Rep. Scalise.
Many of you have commented listing the many instances of liberals speaking or being associated with well-known radicals. Obama’s long-term association with Jeremiah Wright is a prime example, but that’s not enough to resign the presidency, though exercises in poor judgment can make any politician vulnerable to resignation; Clinton was perilously close. Yet, in this instance, being a member of Jeremiah Wright’s church–a very poor decision–is not enough to make Obama resign as president. But, a poor decision in Scalise’s case could be grounds for the loss of his spot on the leadership.
Charles Krauthammer said that he should have offered to resign when this story broke:
At a time when Republicans will be assuming leadership of both houses of Congress, Krauthammer suggested Scalise, whose position makes him the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, could have made things easier for his party if he had just stepped aside from the position. "It wouldn't be a life sentence. I think he'd be eligible to return to leadership," Krauthammer said.
The syndicated columnist went on to explain that it would be a "kind gesture" to those in his party that are trying to broaden their base and encourage more minorities to stand with the Republican party.
Krauthammer said that Scalise's excuse that he didn't have a scheduler or access to Google at the time are possible but not quite plausible especially since the organization's name, Euro-American Unity and Rights organization, implies what types of positions the group, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, took. Representative Scalise has said he had no idea who the group was when he gave a speech before them on tax policies in 2002.
In the end, Scalise will stay in Congress; this story will most likely blow over. But it could raise its ugly head again as Republicans debate tax policy, health care, immigration, and the budget as the new session begins on January 3.
Oh, and Happy New Year!