As the new Congress prepares to take the helm, the Republican leadership is in full-swing damage control over news that Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana spoke to a group of white supremacists in 2002.
Scalise, the Majority Whip, has spent the week reaching out to colleagues to apologize and let them know he erred in accepting the invitation to address the European-American Unity and Rights Organization — known as EURO — during a tour across the Bayou State to discuss his tax plan. Scalise says he had no idea about the group's racist views.
EURO, created by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke
, is a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy both pledged their support for Scalise, issuing coordinating statements Tuesday, The New York Times
Noting that Scalise "made an error in judgment and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate," Boehner said he had "full confidence" in Scalise, the third-ranking House Republican, according to the Washington Post
He went on to say Scalise is "a man of high integrity and good character."
But not all Republicans believe Scalise should keep his leadership role.
GOP consultant John Weaver told the Post that Scalise "cannot serve in leadership in our party as we're in the process of trying to show the American people we can handle the burden of governing, especially in a country so divided across all demographic lines."
Peter Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, agreed, telling the Times that leaving Scalise in a leadership role is "acidic" for the GOP, which is in the throes of trying to diversify the party.
"I just think it is an untenable position to have a person in the leadership of the Republican Party in the House who has spoken to a white supremacist group," Wehner said.
In a statement after the story broke, Scalise maintained that "as a Catholic, these groups hold views that are vehemently opposed to my own personal faith, and I reject that kind of hateful bigotry. Those who know me best know I have always been passionate about helping, serving, and fighting for every family that I represent. And I will continue to do so."
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has also come to Scalise's defense.
"I don't think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body," Richmond told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
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