While Sen. Steve Scalise's involvement in a white supremacist gathering back in 2002 has returned to haunt him over a decade later, opportune politicians have jumped on the occasion to take sides on the matter. The White House, however, has largely remained silent on the matter — until Monday, that is. According to Josh Earnest, Press Secretary of the White House, support for Scalise reflected the GOP's "values," he said in a press briefing to reporters, thereby putting the onus on the Republican Party to decide whether or not the Louisiana Senator should keep his position as House Majority Whip in the 114th Congress.
A mere day before new Congress members will be sworn in — and the GOP officially complete its majority takeover of Congress, its first in eight years — Earnest said to reporters:
There's no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference's priorities and values are.
Last week, Scalise admitted to speaking at a conference for European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), an organization tied to David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Scalise has since apologized, calling his involvement a "mistake":
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.
Fortunately for Scalise, he has the public backing of many in the GOP, including House Speaker John Boehner, who issued a statement defending the third highest-ranked House Republican. Even Mia Love, the first black Republican female elected to Congress, threw her support behind Scalise, insisting in an interview on ABC News that he should remain House Whip, and that they needed to move on from the issue.
And although Scalise has faced criticism from within his own party for the 2002 speech, some Democrats have also publicly defended the Louisiana Senator. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana's sole black Congress member and a Democrat, who previously served in the state's legislature alongside Scalise, gave the embattled senator a huge boost when he told a local paper:
I don't think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body. Steve and I have worked on issues that benefit poor people, black people, white pepple, Jewish people. I know his character.
But the White House placed the weight of the issue on the GOP's shoulders, as Earnest, dredging up Scalise's alleged comment that he resembled the KKK leader, Duke, said:
Ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as "David Duke without the baggage." It will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.
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