Small Protest Shows Why Steve Scalise Has Survived His First Scandal

Scalise's speech controversy is losing its legs.

Barely a dozen protesters stood outside the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday waiting to confront GOP House Whip Steve Scalise. Bundled up, one held a pink heart-shaped sign decrying the Ku Klux Klan. Another held a poster asking, "Republicans how's that rebranding going?" Together they chanted "racist, sexist, antigay. KKK go away," as many of Scalise's Republican colleagues funneled into an afternoon fundraiser.

It was an attempt to redirect attention to comments Scalise made to a white-supremacist group back in 2002. It's a controversy that—at the moment—appears to have faded into the busy legislative calendar of the 114th Congress and left Scalise with his leadership post intact.

"We are not going away," said Aaron Black, a protester and local activist who held a giant banner with Scalise's face on it that said, "Steve Scalise: David Duke without the baggage?"

Other protesters—such as Jason Kimelman-Block, a rabbi affiliated with Bend the Arc Jewish Action—said they still wanted Scalise to step down.

"It's an ongoing effort. We would like Representative Scalise to know that we are watching, we haven't forgotten, we haven't moved on," Kimelman-Block said.

News broke in December that Scalise had spoken to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization when he was a state lawmaker. The group, founded by former Klan member David Duke, is considered a hate group.

But House Speaker John Boehner jumped in to support Scalise in the aftermath, and he said repeatedly this month that he has faith in his whip to carry out his duties on the leadership team. Even Mia Love, the GOP's first African-American congresswoman, said it was time to move on.

While passionate, the mere number of protesters shows that the initial burst of energy around the Scalise scandal has largely died down.

Protesters on Tuesday argued that their movement is larger than it appeared outside the Capitol Hill Club but that turnout was low because it was a workday.

While Scalise may have weathered this controversy, the protest does underscore the tricky optics it forces the GOP to face as it attempts to make inroads with the minority community.

"There is a lot more work to do," Kimelman-Block says. "If leadership thinks that one statement and one representative can make one interview to a reporter and express remorse, but not meet with leaders, not take concrete action, it's too little, too late."