Louisiana Democrats are rallying around beleaguered Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, who is battling accusations that he spoke at a meeting of a white supremacist group a dozen years ago in Metairie.
Scalise, at the time a state representative, is said to have spoken at a meeting of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) in 2002, National Review reports
The organization, founded by one-time Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, is listed as a "white nationalist" group by the Southern Poverty Law Center
, and stands for "white civil rights."
Scalise told The New Orleans Times-Picayune
that at the time, "when someone called and asked me to speak, I would go. I was, in no way, affiliated with that group or the other groups I was talking to."
"I spoke to any group that called, and there were a lot of groups calling."
“I don’t think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body," Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said, National Review reports. "Steve and I have worked on issues that benefit poor people, black people, white people, Jewish people. I know his character.
"I am not going to let them use Steve as a scapegoat to score political points when I know him and know his family."
Louisiana Democratic state Sen. Edwin Murray told National Review that Scalise has "always been honest, fair and respectful of others."
Former U.S. Sen. Bennett Johnston told the Review: "I know a lot about David Duke, who ran against me for the Senate in 1990, but I never knew that the EURO was a racist organization. I may disagree with Rep. Scalise, but a racist he is not. Nor would he have been stupid enough to knowingly address a racist group."
The Review commented: "From now on, Republicans should refer reporters to those Louisiana Democrats who know the situation best and are increasingly vocal in their view that the issue has been overblown or exaggerated."
Kenny Knight, a former associate of Duke's who rented the hall at the Landmark Hotel where the meeting was held, told the Times-Picayune
that Scalise was not on the agenda at the meeting but instead spoke briefly with a local civic group before the meeting was held.
However, Corey Ortis, a Louisiana representative for EURO, recalled that Scalise gave a 10-to-15-minute speech, and told The New York Times
: “He touched on how America was founded on Christian principles, Christian men who founded this country, and how it was believed it would go forward as a Christian nation and how we’re getting away from that."
Scalise said: "Twelve years ago, I spoke to many different Louisiana groups as a state representative, trying to build support for legislation that focused on cutting wasteful state spending, eliminating government corruption and stopping tax hikes.
"One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold," The Washington Post reports
Scalise has received support from his own party as well, as both House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have weighed in on his behalf, the Post reports.
Louisiana Republican State Rep. Chuck Cleckley told the Times: "It’s not fair to Steve at all. He’s a good man, a good father, a good husband and a great person. Ever since I’ve known Steve, he wanted to do what’s right for Louisiana. I never felt like there was any kind of David Duke leanings with Steve."
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