It’s been pile-on time this week against House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who has been scrambling to explain if and why he might have spoken to a white-nationalist group as a state legislator back in 2002. Scalise claims he can’t recall speaking at the EURO conference near his Metairie district, and he says that with a staff of one at the time he didn’t vet all the groups he spoke to promoting his opposition to tax increases. The EURO conference featured former KKK leader David Duke as a speaker by video link from Europe.
But not every Democrat or liberal has turned the controversy into a political cudgel. Representative Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, the only Democrat in Louisiana’s U.S. House delegation, told the Times-Picayune, “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 people, Jewish people. I know his character.” He then launched a riposte against Scalise’s critics, implying that their comments were more political than substantive. “I am not going to let them use Steve as a scapegoat to score political points when I know him and know his family,” Richmond told the paper.
State senator Edwin Murray, a Democrat who also represents New Orleans, followed up with his own comment on Twitter about his state legislative colleague: “[Scalise has] always been honest, fair and respectful of others.” Other Democrats, including former U.S. senator Bennett Johnston, say it is going too far to expect Scalise to have known about EURO. “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,” Johnston said in a statement. “I may disagree with Representative Scalise but a racist he is not. Nor would he have been stupid enough to knowingly address a racist group.”
The Scalise scandal, and the ham-handed way in which he and other members of the GOP leadership have dealt with it, was designed to throw Republicans off their stride as they prepare to convene the first Congress under unified GOP control in a decade. In that, it has succeeded. But from now on, Republicans should refer reporters to those Louisiana Democrats who (a) know the situation best and (b) are increasingly vocal in their view that the issue has been overblown or exaggerated.