Advisers confirmed on Monday that while serving as an elected official in 2002, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, spoke at an event hosted by white-supremacist leaders, the Washington Post reports.
The news comes just days before Republicans are slated to assume control of both congressional chambers, and at a time when the nation is grappling with race relations, including charges of deeply entrenched racism in the criminal justice system, especially in the nation’s police departments.
Scalise, 49, who rose to the House Republican’s third-ranking post this year, confirmed that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, the report says.
Scalise’s adviser said that the congressman did not know about the group’s affiliation with racists and neo-Nazis when he spoke as part of a two-day conference in May 2002 at the Best Western Landmark hotel in Metairie, La., a suburb of New Orleans, the Post writes, citing a report by Louisiana political blogger Lamar White Jr.
The Washington Post reports:
“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune on Monday night. The organization, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, has been called a hate group by several civil rights organizations.
The news could complicate Republican efforts to project the sense of a fresh start for a resurgent, diversifying party as the new session of Congress opens next week. In the time since voters handed control of Congress to Republicans, top GOP leaders have been eagerly trumpeting their revamped image and management team on Capitol Hill.
Some Democrats, including Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), were already raising questions about the event, the Post writes.
“Race still is, sadly, an ugly aspect of our politics,” he said by e-mail. “No politician should ever find himself/herself addressing a white supremacist organization except to tell them to go to hell.” Associates of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) are monitoring the situation, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s staff had no comment.
It’s unclear what Scalise said at the event because his 2002 schedule was unavailable, according to aides, the report says. The aides added that Scalise was a frequent speaker at events at the Best Western Landmark, a location known for hosting New Orleans-area conferences.
In an interview with the Times-Picayune, Scalise expressed remorse about the decision to speak at the event.
“When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go,” he told the news outlet. “If I knew today what they were about, I wouldn’t go.”