Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white nationalist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002, thrusting a racial controversy into House Republican ranks days before the party assumes control of both congressional chambers.
The 48-year-old Scalise, who ascended to the House GOP’s third-ranking post earlier this year, confirmed through an adviser that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
His spokesman’s explanation is less than satisfying. (“In a statement, Scalise’s spokesperson Moira Bagley emphasized that the then-state lawmaker was unaware at the time of the group’s ideology and its association with racists and neo-Nazi activists.”) Really, nothing about the name of the organization tipped him off? “Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Bagley said. “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.” That is equally unconvincing. Would he have spoken to a KKK rally? To the American Nazi Party?
Scalise’s office reiterated that he does not share the organization’s views and finds that the group demonstrates “hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance.”
No one is suggesting Scalise is a racist. But his actions then reflect appalling judgment, and his reaction to the controversy is not helping matters. Scalise may want to wait this out, see if other incidents surface and whether this becomes a major to-do. Alternatively, he may spare his party from an outpouring of feigned indignation and mock outrage by stepping down from a leadership post. His appearance before that group was inexcusable, but his rather uncompelling reaction is more concerning. He holds a position of leadership and should be a model of good judgment and conduct. (Are there other appearances before other hate groups?) This is no way to start off the new Congress.