Louisiana GOP Rep. Steve Scalise, under fire for his reported 2002 attendance at an event hosted by a white nationalist organization, said Tuesday that addressing the organization was "a mistake."
"Twelve years ago, I spoke to many different Louisiana groups as a state representative, trying to build support for legislation that focused on cutting wasteful state spending, eliminating government corruption, and stopping tax hikes," said Scalise, who as House Majority Whip is the third-ranking Republican in the House. "One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold. I am very disappointed that anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain."
Louisiana political reporter Lamar White Jr. first reported Scalise’s address at the 2002 event, which was hosted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that he supports Scalise, calling his speech at the EURO event "an error in judgment."
"More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate," said Boehner. "Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our Whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed that support, saying "Congressman Scalise acknowledged he made a mistake and has condemned the views that organization espouses. I've known him as a friend for many years and I know that he does not share the beliefs of that organization."
Democrats have called for an investigation into the matter and questioned Scalise’s contention that he did not know the nature of the organization when he addressed its members. But top Democratic leaders have also stopped short of calling for him to step down.
Scalise told the Times-Picayune Monday that he did not remember speaking at the event, although he did not deny appearing there.
"I didn't know who all of these groups were, and I detest any kind of hate group," he told the newspaper.
In a statement earlier this week, Scalise spokesperson Moira Smith said that the congressman has spoken to “hundreds” of different groups throughout his political career and has never been affiliated in any way with the “abhorrent” EURO organization.
"Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around," Scalise spokesperson Moira Smith said in a statement.