House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are both rallying behind Rep. Steve Scalise as controversy erupts over him speaking at a white supremacist conference organized by former KKK leader David Duke in 2002. Whether that will last or not remains to be seen.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is throwing a lifesaver to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R) as the Louisiana congressman faces a deluge of criticism and questions over a 2002 speech he gave to a white supremacist group.
“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,” Boehner said in a Tuesday statement.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is also standing by Scalise.
“Congressman Scalise acknowledged he made a mistake and has condemned the views that organization espouses,” McCarthy said in a statement released moments after Boehner’s. “I’ve known him as a friend for many years and I know that he does not share the beliefs of that organization.”
This will last as long as the whole thing blows over soon. If controversy continues to rage, I expect that support will erode. As Steve Benen points out, other Republican politicians who had more power than Scalise have been brought down by such matters. Trent Lott lost his seat as Senate Majority Leader the same year Scalise spoke at that conference for praising Strom Thurmond’s pro-segregation presidential campaigns at Thurmond’s birthday party.
Note, as a Republican state lawmaker, Scalise clearly knew the King holiday was going to be approved, but he made a point of voting against it anyway.
To be sure, there are other notable Republicans who rose to national prominence after voting against a day honoring MLK. Former Vice President Dick Cheney (R), for example, voted against the King holiday as a member of Congress in 1978. Five years later, Cheney changed his mind.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also voted against it in 1983, though in 1999, he said on “Meet the Press,” “We all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King…. I regret that vote.”
Scalise, however, voted against the holiday in 2004.
The vote in the Louisiana legislature was 80-6, with Scalise one of the six. You have to feel really strongly about something to cast a vote like that when you know it’s going to pass and you know it’s going to be a very unpopular vote.