House Majority Whip Steve Scalise doesn't share the racist views of a group he spoke to in 2002,
but he was looking for their votes, says Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, admits speaking to a conference held in Louisiana by the group European-American Unity and Rights Organization. It holds neo-Nazi beliefs and was founded by Louisiana politician and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
But Scalise, who ranks third in House GOP leadership, says he didn't know the group's ideology when he made the speech and that he only talked about state tax policy to the group. He was a member of the state legislature at the time and was talking to various groups about his policies, he said.
Sabato told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper"
on Tuesday it is hard to believe Scalise couldn't simply look at the group's name and figure out who they were. The more likely explanation, Sabato said, is that Scalise knew the group's background, didn't approve of it, but needed their votes to win.
"He's trying to sidestep it by claiming this and that, but I don't think many people believe it," Sabato said.
Duke was originally a Democrat and became a Republican, serving in the Louisiana legislature and winning 55 percent of the white vote in a bid for governor in 1991. He also ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican.
Scalise would had to have known that past, Sabato said.
Duke won Scalise's state legislative district and his congressional district during his statewide campaigns, Sabato said, "So, of course, he needed some of the David Duke vote. In fact, he probably needed a large majority of it."
Duke himself told Fusion
that lots of Louisiana Republicans have been friendly to him over the years, and if they throw Scalise under the bus he will out them.
House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday expressed support for Scalise, saying, "I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our whip."
Sabato said Boehner likely is trying to get a quick end to the controversy, and knows Scalise has the support of the GOP caucus with or without Boehner's support.
Still, Sabato said, "The caucus is going to pay a price for this, and the party generally will pay a price for this."
It's exactly not what the GOP wanted heading into a two-year lame-duck session for President Barack Obama in which the party will control both houses of Congress for the first time since Obama's election in 2008. It comes as Republicans are seeking to lure more minority voters as the 2016 presidential campaign approaches.
Democrat Cedric Richmond, the only black member of the Louisiana congressional delegation told WWL-TV in New Orleans he doesn't see Scalise as a racist.
"I think that he's just a hard-working public servant that will go talk to anybody at any time whether he agrees with their social beliefs or not," Richmond said. He told The New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Steve and I have worked on issues that benefit poor people, black people, white people, Jewish people. I know his character."
Meanwhile, Duke adviser Kenny Knight, who is the person who invited Scalise to speak to the group told The Washington Post
that Scalise was unaware of Duke's affiliation with the group and spoke only because Knight had invited him as a friend and neighbor.
"He agreed, believing it was going to be neighbors, friends, and family," Knight told the paaper. "He saw me not as David Duke’s guy, but as the president of our civic association."
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