Not only has it been revealed that Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third leading Republican in the US House of Representatives, addressed a conference of a white nationalist group organized by David Duke in 2002 (here’s a photo of one of his fellow conference speakers), but he made some remarkable comments about Duke when the former Ku Klux Klan leader was considering running for Congress in 1999:
Another potential candidate, state Rep. Steve Scalise (R), said he embraces many of the same “conservative” views as Duke, but is far more viable.
“The novelty of David Duke has worn off,” said Scalise. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”
(Duke ran for governor of Louisiana as a Republican in 1991 and received nearly 40 percent of the vote, including more than half of the white vote.)
In 1998– the year before Scalise made those comments– Duke published an autobiography which included the following passages:
In modern America, Jews lead the effort to de-Christianize America. … They share little of the heritage of the Old Testament people called the Israelites. … Communism and Zionism were born from the same Jewish soul. … Jewish power is ubiquitous. … It is not a [Jewish] conspiracy. It is simply two nations — Jew and Gentile — in a state of ethnic war.
And yet, according to Scalise, the most important thing was that Duke couldn’t get elected.
Scalise has expressed regret for speaking to the 2002 conference of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, and claims he had no idea of its racist and antisemitic nature. House Speaker John Boehner expressed his “full confidence” in Scalise, the House Majority Whip.
Perhaps less helpful were the comments of Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa:
“Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners,” King said. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, it’s the sick.”
While no record has been found of exactly what Scalise said at the 2002 EURO conference, there’s no evidence he used the opportunity to challenge the hateful views of the participants.
Some rare credit belongs to leading rightwing blogger Erick Erickson, who managed to unequivocally denounce Scalise (“How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”) without once mentioning Jeremiah Wright or other whataboutery.
Update: Even though Scalise was one of only six Louisiana state representatives to vote in 2004 against a holiday memorializing Martin Luther King Jr., he appears to be more of an opportunist than a racist.