For a politician just elevated a few months ago to the third-ranking post in the House, Representative Steve Scalise is not well known to most Americans outside the Beltway. That may be about to change, but not in a way the Louisiana Republican would like.
Scalise's office on Monday acknowledged that the House majority whip addressed a white supremacist group with ties to David Duke in 2002 while he was a state representative in Louisiana. Uncovering posts on Stormfront, a white nationalist Internet forum, Lamar White Jr. reported on his Louisiana politics website Sunday that Scalise spoke at an international conference of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a group led by Duke, the former Klansman, state legislator, and gubernatorial candidate. The organization has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Scalise spoke about a top-priority issue for him at the time: federal grant programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that he referred to as "slush funds," according to a Stormfront commenter quoted by White. The commenter named Alsace Hebert wrote that Scalise alluded to a racial component of the federal grants, although he did not quote him directly:
Representative Scalise brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft within the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent give-away to a selective group based on race.
In a statement on Monday, Scalise spokeswoman Moira Smith said the lawmaker had spoken to "to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints" during his career in public service.
In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families. He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.
An aide subsequently clarified to Roll Call that it was "probable" that Scalise spoke to EURO in 2002 but did not know it was a white supremacist group. The aide said Scalise didn't specifically remember the event, and his office had no record of it.
Scalise, 49, won his seat in the House in 2008 and has advanced quickly. After leading the Republican Study Committee, an influential conservative bloc, he won the post of majority whip that opened up following Eric Cantor's surprise primary defeat in June. That puts him behind only Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the House leadership hierarchy. Inside the Capitol, he's known as a friendly conservative who is relentlessly on message, a trait that endeared him to party leaders who supported him over more freewheeling, gaffe-prone colleagues.
For House Republicans, the revelation continues what has been a bumpy period following a successful November election. Representative Michael Grimm of New York pleaded guilty to tax fraud last week but is resisting calls for his resignation, while the office of Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas is facing a lawsuit from a former staffer who is alleging she was sexually harassed. Now one of the party's top leaders must answer for a 12-year-old speech he gave to a white supremacist group, and at a time when racial tensions are once again a topic of national debate.