Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white-supremacist 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 news could complicate Republican efforts to project the sense of a fresh start for a resurgent, diversifying party as the new session of Congress opens next week. In the time since voters handed control of Congress to Republicans, top GOP leaders have been eagerly trumpeting their revamped image and management team on Capitol Hill…

“It’s hard to believe, given David Duke’s reputation in Louisiana, that somebody in politics in Louisiana wasn’t aware of Duke’s associations with the group and what they stand for,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (Tex.), a rising star in the Democratic Party who is considered among the most prominent Hispanics in Congress. “If that’s the case and he agreed to join them for their event, then I think it’s a real test for Speaker Boehner as to whether congressman Scalise should remain in Republican leadership,” Castro said in a phone interview.

***

Mr. Scalise made his remarks to a group called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which was founded two years earlier by David Duke, the nationally known former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana politician. Mr. Scalise was a second-term Louisiana state legislator at the time…

Moira Bagley Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. Scalise, said on Monday that the congressman had “never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question.”…

Some Republicans joined Democrats in expressing skepticism at Mr. Scalise’s claim that he had been unaware of the group’s racist leanings.

“How do you not know? How do you not investigate?” asked Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit and former Louisianian, in opening a column on his widely followed RedState website. He added that Mr. Lott had been forced from the Senate leadership “for something less than this.”

***

I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous.

I was opposed to a lot of spending of spending at the state level. When people asked me to go speak, I went and spoke to any group that called.”

You don’t remember speaking at the event?

“I don’t. I mean I’ve seen the blog about it. When you look at the kind of things they stand for, I detest these kinds of views. As a Catholic, I think some of the things they profess target people like me. At lot of their views run contradictory to the way I run my life. 

I don’t support some of the things I have read about this group. I don’t support any of the things I have read about this group, but I spoke to a lot of groups during that period. I went all throughout South Louisiana. 

***

Back in 1999, Roll Call interviewed white supremacist leader David Duke about the possibility he would seek the House seat vacated by the resignation of Republican Rep. Bob Livingston. As part of that report, reporter John Mercurio also talked to up-and-coming Louisiana politicians, current Sen. David Vitter and current House Majority Whip Steve Scalise…

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.”

***

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke said late Monday that his longtime political adviser, Kenny Knight, was “friendly” with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in 2002, and cited that relationship as the reason Scalise accepted an invitation that year to speak at a gathering of white supremacists…

Duke, however, insisted that he and Scalise have “never had a relationship.”

“No lunches, no dinners with Scalise. I never supported him in any campaign,” Duke said. “I didn’t get the impression that he was one of us. I didn’t cultivate a relationship. Kenny was the one who did.”

***

“He was my neighbor,” Knight said of Scalise, who was serving as a state representative at the time of the conference. “I asked him to be the first speaker before the meeting kicked off.”…

“This all came about because I organized the EURO meeting for David Duke as a courtesy after he had moved to Russia. I’ve known David for 40 years so I did him a favor. As part of that, I decided to ask Steve, our local representative, to come by and say a few words before the conference started,” Knight said. “He agreed, believing it was going to be neighbors, friends, and family. He saw me not as David Duke’s guy, but as the president of our civic association.”…

The crowd there was a “mixed” audience for Scalise, mostly local, and partly “people who are concerned about the survival of their race,” he added. “The thing is, I don’t think Scalise knew anything about EURO, about that latter group.”

***

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued the following statement in support of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA):

“More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate.  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 (CA-23) released the following statement in support of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise:

“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.”

***

Drew Hammill, spokesman for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, released the following statement on news reports that Republican Whip Steve Scalise spoke and was honored at a forum sponsored by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which was founded in 2000 by David Duke.

“Whip Scalise’s involvement with a group classified by the Anti-Defamation League as anti-Semitic and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group is deeply troubling for a top Republican leader in the House.

However, actions speak louder than whatever Steve Scalise said to that group in 2002. Just this year, House Republicans have refused to restore the Voting Rights Act or pass comprehensive immigration reform, and leading Republican members are now actively supporting in the federal courts efforts by another known extremist group, the American Center for Law and Justice, which is seeking to overturn the President’s immigration executive actions.

***

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee harshly condemned House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) Tuesday, a day after reports surfaced that he spoke at a white supremacist event in 2002 while serving as a state legislator.
 
“Steve Scalise chose to cheerlead for a group of KKK members and neo-Nazis at a white supremacist rally and now his fellow House Republican Leaders can’t even speak up and say he was wrong,” DCCC press secretary Josh Schwerin said in an emailed statement…

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y), the former head of the DCCC, tweeted “GOP Whip #Scalise: I thought those white hoods were a weird fashion statement?”

***

Jindal, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said in a statement that “I know Congressman Scalise to be a good man who is fair-minded and kindhearted. I’m confident he absolutely rejects racism in all its forms,” according to the Times-Picayune.

[Rep. Cedric] Richmond, a Democrat, said he didn’t think Scalise “has a racist bone in his body,” citing their work on “issues that benefit poor people, black people, white people, Jewish people,” according to the Times-Picayune.

Another Republican representative, Steve King of Iowa, also jumped to Scalise’s defense. “Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners,” King said, according to the Washington Post. “I know his heart, I’ve painted houses with him post-Katrina, and I know he is a good man.”

***

“GOP establishment a disastrous mess. Clean them out. Time for new leaders with conservative principles,” [Mark] Levin said on Facebook about the Scalise scandal, adding that: “You RINOs need to do a much better job of vetting your leaders & candidates. After all, you’re the pros, right?”…

“Boehner all in for Scalise, and here’s why,” Levin said with a link to a previous posting on his website about Scalise’s role in helping Boehner eliminate conservative opposition via the RSC to his big government initiatives.

Hannity, also a Fox News host, is specifically, in his exclusive statement to Breitbart News, calling on Boehner to be replaced with South Carolina’s wildly popular Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

“The American people need bold inspiring solutions to reverse the damaging policies of the President and his party. This is not a time for half measures,” Hannity said in an email. “It’s time for new dynamic leadership in the House of Representatives. Trey Gowdy is my choice for speaker. He has the ability to articulate and implement the changes needed to get the country on the right path.”

***

By 2000, Duke had shown everyone insider and outside Louisiana he really was not the penitent soul he’d claimed to be. So going to his group in 2002 does not sit well with me.

Here, though, is the thing. Again, I do not think Scalise is racist or bigoted or even a bad person. He’s actually a very nice person. The thing is, the GOP holds conservatives to a standard they do not hold themselves to. This very year the GOP Leadership denounced Chris McDaniel because he had spoken to a Sons of Confederate Veterans group — something Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) had also done. But the leadership told us all that we could not abide the “racism” narrative that would spring from it.

So we can all agree that Scalise is a good person and we should all agree he is not racist. But if Scalise was the conservative his spokesmen would have us believe, there is no doubt in my mind he’d be boxing up his office today.

***

For the good of the party and the country, Republicans need to reach out to America’s oldest minority, the group whose emancipation was a motivation for many of the GOP’s founders. Black voters, just as much as white exurban voters, deserve competition for their vote, in the cities just as much as in the South. If a Republican majority whip was discovered to have once spoken to a group created by Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, he’d be dropped from leadership before Richard Land could hit up a friend on speed dial. Keeping Scalise in leadership confirms that the GOP doesn’t care about its perception among black voters. It’s an own goal.

Why is he even worth defending? Scalise is not a exactly a unique voice or personality in the party. He’s not a great policy entrepreneur, or a strategic thinker. He doesn’t have an inside track on attracting new blocs of voters to the GOP. In other words, he brings nothing to the table that justifies excusing the 2002 event as just a matter of poor judgement, or incompetent staffing. Scalise is basically a standard issue-conservative distinguished only by his ability to play politics within his own caucus. There are quite literally about 200 guys just like him in the Republican rank and file. They are just like him except for one thing: They don’t have a David Duke oopsie to explain for the rest of their lives.

***

Of course, many liberals conclude that conservatism is clandestinely racist and motivated by white backlash rather than genuine concern about taxes, welfare, crime or immigration. And there is some justice to the charge that conservatives have not always done enough to distance themselves from racism.

It is equally true, however, that if responsible conservatives don’t take up issues like taxes, welfare, crime or immigration, racist kooks like David Duke will instead.

Meanwhile, Duke salivates over his return to the front page. He promised in an interview to publicize the names of other politicians with whom he has ties, warning other Republicans “better be looking over their shoulders.”

David Duke is like a ghost. He’s dressed in a white costume. He’s tried to possess the Republican Party. Having failed, he can help liberals haunt it.