House Republican leaders have thrown their support behind Majority Whip Steve Scalise in the wake of revelations that he spoke in 2002 before a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. But the controversy continues to rage. As Politico puts it, new revelations could easily change the situation, and Scalise faces a “critical test” as fellow Republicans continue to assess his “future political viability in the House Republican Conference.”

Now the Anti-Defamation League — the venerable century-old organization that criticizes all forms of hate and bigotry and has long monitored Duke and his supporters — is weighing in on the controversy.

In an interview with me, Stacy Burdett, the ADL’s Government and National Affairs Director, said that Scalise, unintentionally or not, had “legitimized” Duke’s “hate and bigotry.” However, she said she was satisfied thus far with his response, though she added that it was just an “opening” and that it is still on Scalise in coming weeks to convert the affair into a positive lesson for the American people.

“By standing on their platform, whether he intended to or not, he potentially sent a message that he endorsed their views,” Burdett told me. “ADL speaks out whenever political leaders in any way give bigotry a platform or legitimacy.”

“Hate groups like David Duke’s organization are a real part of American life,” Burdett said. “Any appearance before such a group risks legitimizing their bigotry. The public is absolutely justified in taking it seriously when a senior leader in Congress participates in an event like that, which is practically synonymous with hate and bigotry in Americans’ minds.”

But Burdett added that the ADL is satisfied with the statement that Scalise released yesterday. In it, Scalise said that speaking to the group was a “mistake I regret,” adding that “I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold,” and that “I reject that kind of hateful bigotry.”

“The statement that he made hit the mark — it was the right thing to do,” Burdett said. “Rep. Scalise took the important step of rejecting those ideas. It’s the right first step. It’s not necessarily closure. He will have the opportunity to talk more about this and to embody what it is he learned from this episode.”

The Post today reports that Scalise spoke to the group after being invited to do so by Duke’s longtime political strategist. I asked Burdett if it was credible that Scalise would not know what the group stood for, given that Duke founded it.

“Only Rep. Scalise can really explain what was in his heart,” Burdett said. “For us at the end of the day, this is more than a story about one member of Congress. It’s a wake up call to every political leader that public office includes a duty to marginalize bigotry in everything you do.”

The ADL’s response effectively puts Scalise on probation with the group. But given that the ADL believes Scalise responded appropriately, this may be another sign that — provided no more revelations surface — Scalise will probably survive.


* TRADE DEAL A TOUGH SELL FOR DEMS: The New York Times has a good overview of a battle that will soon be making a lot of noise: The fight over Obama’s push for a trade deal with a dozen nations around the Pacific ocean. The primary obstacle is Congressional Democrats, who worry the administration isn’t pursuing serious enforceable environmental standards; is inserting intellectual property provisions that will be a boon to pharmaceutal companies; and isn’t cracking down hard enough on foreign currency manipulation as a way to prevent job loss at home.

In the end, many progressive Dems may back the deal, if the details align properly. But getting there will be tough, and many will have trouble accepting the request for “fast track” authority, i.e., a straight up-or-down vote on the final product with no chance of changing it.

* AN ELECTION ALL ABOUT POLICE KILLING: Politico looks at the race for the seat of GOP Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island, New York, who resigned after pleading guilty to tax evasion, and finds that it is shaping up as a battle over the meaning of the police choke-hold killing of Eric Garner, given that Staten Island is a more conservative bastion in NYC. This, about Mayor De Blasio’s apparently heretical suggestion that there may be a problem here, should be fun: “Already Republicans plan to make the Democratic mayor a bogeyman in the special election.”

Speaking of the NYPD’s response to De Blasio, here’s the headline of the day: “Arrests plummet 60 percent with NYPD in virtual work stoppage.”

* WHY OBAMA’S APPROVAL IS RISING: The Wall Street Journal suggests one reason: His executive actions on climate, Cuba, and deportations are buoying him among Democrats and Latinos. As the Journal notes, these actions have “stoked Republicans’ ire, but the new, proactive Mr. Obama is likely a welcome change for members of his own party.” Of course that GOP “ire” would continue to be “stoked” no matter what Obama did or didn’t do.

* MAJORITY SUPPORTS MENU LABELING FOR CALORIES: With the Food and Drug Administration rolling out new rules, as part of the Affordable Care Act, requiring some large restaurant organizations to clearly post calorie content, a new Associated Press poll finds:

A majority of Americans — 56 percent — favor requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie amounts on menus, while 54 percent favor the calorie postings at sit-down restaurants and 52 percent favor the labels at prepared food counters at grocery stores.

Majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans favor this nanny state element of the ACA.

Racist elements have long been a part of political life in Louisiana and throughout the Deep South, but Scalise’s skillful ability to balance them with his party’s modern-day need to appeal to a rapidly diversifying electorate enabled his rise. Scalise was one of only six state representatives to vote in 2004 against a holiday memorializing Martin Luther King Jr….Yet, at 49, Scalise has separated himself from some of the more racially polarizing associations that characterized some older Southern politicians in both parties.

Whether Scalise has successfully separated himself from those associations, of course, remains to be seen.

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, SCALISE-DIDN’T-KNOW-NOTHING EDITION: It comes courtesy of Corey Otis, a member of the white supremacist European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which Rep. Scalise spoke to while unaware (he claims) of what it stood for:

“Everybody there knew EURO was putting it on, and David Duke was the national president of EURO. You don’t go to a James Brown concert and not know it’s James Brown.”