House Speaker John Boehner lends support to Whip Steve Scalise over speech scandal

Michael Walsh
House Speaker John Boehner lends support to Whip Steve Scalise over speech scandal

House Speaker John Boehner has issued a statement of support for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is embroiled in controversy over his speech at an event organized by white supremacists.

Rep. Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, acknowledged Monday that he appeared at a 2002 convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), which was founded two years earlier by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

"More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate," Boehner's statement reads. "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."

Similarly, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, released a statement in support of Scalise.

"Congressman Scalise acknowledges 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," the statement reads.

 Scalise, 49, issued a statement distancing himself from the hate group's beliefs.

"I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold," it reads in part.

The statements from Boehner and McCarthy, released almost simultaneously around the lunch hour Tuesday, were a clear attempt to bolster Scalise and end speculation that the Louisiana native — who has been in leadership for six months — would have to relinquish his post as the No. 3 Republican in the House.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticized Scalise in a statement on Tuesday and questioned why the GOP leadership has remained silent.

"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," said DCCC national press secretary Josh Schwerin.

Although Scalise told the Times-Picayune Monday that he would never have appeared at a group that he knew was affiliated with Duke, the three statements released Tuesday all referred to Scalise’s appearance as something he should not have done. Yahoo News has asked Scalise’s spokesperson if he knew anything about EURO’s views at the time.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified EURO, which claims to fight for "white civil rights,” as a hate group.

The controversial speech took place at a hotel in the New Orleans area near neighborhoods Scalise and Duke had represented during separate stints in office, according to a written statement from Scalise aide Moira Bagley Smith.

She says the speech was only intended to promote conservative fiscal policies in Louisiana.

"Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints," Smith wrote. "In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around."

Smith condemned the group's "hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance," which she says stands in stark contrast with what "Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband and a devoted Catholic."

Scalise, now the chamber's third-ranking Republican, was in the Louisiana Legislature at the time of the event.

Yahoo News Senior Political Correspondent Jon Ward and the Associated Press contributed to this report.