The No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives is on the defensive after reports Monday that he addressed a white nationalist organization 12 years ago about a proposal he was pushing to eliminate slush funds.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana addressed members of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization at a 2002 gathering in a New Orleans suburb. The news was first reported by CenLamar.com, a blog in his state. The group, which sometimes goes by its acronym EURO, was founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader and former Louisiana state Representative David Duke, and the Southern Poverty Law Center says it mostly exists to promote Duke's writing and books.
Moira Bagley Smith, a Scalise spokeswoman, told the Washington Post that Scalise was unaware of the group's ideology when he addressed its members and that he "has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question." At the time, Scalise was a state representative and "made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds," Smith said.
Scalise became majority whip this summer after Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, prompting a leadership reshuffling.
Even some in Scalise's own party questioned how the elected official was unaware of the group's background. "How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?" wrote Erick Erickson of the conservative website Redstate.com.
Scalise already is being mocked on his official Facebook account. His Dec. 25 post, "Wishing y'all a blessed and very #MerryChristmas," prompted a commenter to add after the news broke: "And may all your Christmases be white!"
Julie Bykowicz and Greg Giroux contributed to this report.