GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) confirmed on Monday that he had addressed a white supremacy conference in 2002 organized by former KKK Grand Wizard and onetime GOP presidential candidate David Duke. The revelation immediately cast doubts on whether Scalise will hang onto his leadership position within the House Republican caucus as the GOP prepares to lead both chambers of Congress in 2015.
Democrats condemned Scalise's appearance and called on his fellow GOP House leaders to do the same. "Steve Scalise chose to cheerlead for a group of KKK members and neo-Nazis at a white supremacist rally and now his fellow House Republican Leaders can’t even speak up and say he was wrong," said Josh Schwerin, National Press Secretary for the DCCC. "Republicans in Congress might talk about improving their terrible standing with non-white voters, but it’s clear their leadership has a history of embracing anti-Semitic, racist hate groups."
As reported by The Hill:
"The news about Scalise will cast a cloud over the first week of Congress...Scalise will be surrounded by reporters upon his return to Washington, and it will distract from the GOP’s official message. Damaging stories touching on racism have the potential not only to distract, but to damage the GOP brand.
Scalise on Monday denounced the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, to which he spoke in 2002. 'I didn't know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group,' he said in an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday. 'For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,' he said.
Many people have expressed doubt, however, that Scalise could not have known who the group was given its name and David Duke’s prominence in the state of Louisiana. 'By 2002, everybody knew that Duke was still the man he claimed not to be. EVERYBODY,' influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson wrote Monday on RedState.com. 'How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?'"
According to David Duke, Scalise knew exactly what company he was keeping. "Scalise would communicate a lot with my campaign manager, Kenny Knight," Duke said on Monday when interviewed by the Washington Post. "That is why he was invited and why he would come." Kenny Knight is one of Scalise's congressional campaign donors.
Yet appearing at the EURO conference was hardly the first time Rep. Scalise has tried to further his political career by appealing to bigotry and dividing people. Past votes and legislation pushed by Scalise show a disturbing pattern that casts doubts on his commitment to equal rights for all Americans.
While serving as a state representative, Scalise joined former U.S. Senator and notorious bigot Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in the dubious club of Republicans who tried to stop the nation from honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, when he twice voted against establishing an MLK holiday in Louisiana. In 1997, he voted no on a bill designed to "prohibit hate crimes based on race, class or sexual orientation." Exploiting anti-gay bigotry to win votes for the GOP in 2004, Scalise was the lead author of a bill that put a constitutional amendment on the Louisiana ballot banning gay marriage.
In 2009, Scalise was one of the leading Republicans who joined Glenn Beck in a campaign to smear black Obama Administration official Van Jones, forcing him to resign his post. Beck, Scalise, and the rest of the GOP scalp-hunters targeted Jones after it was discovered that his name appeared on a 2004 petition calling for more investigations into the 9/11 attacks, and also questioning whether any Bush Administration officials knew about the attacks in advance. Jones had agreed to lend his name to the petition without reading it first. "The last green jobs czar we had left in disgrace," Scalise crowed about Jones' departure, "because he expressed comments embracing communism and actually tried to blame the government, the American government, for September 11th attacks."Currently, as pointed out by Vocativ:
"(Scalise) is a regular on Tony Perkins' radio show, Washington Watch With Tony Perkins. Perkins heads the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center condemns as virulently anti-LGBT."
Tony Perkins is also pals with David Duke, having once paid $82,500 for Duke's mailing list. Perkins filed a false campaign disclosure form to hide the payment, for which he was eventually fined $3,000.
The Republican Party needs to decide whether this is the face it wants to keep showing at a time when it has a demographic imperative to improve its standing with non-white voters. As Steve Scalise's political career makes clear, the ghosts of racism past and present still haunt the GOP.
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