By Scott Wong
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will attend civil rights ceremonies in Selma, Ala., next month, more than a year after revelations the Louisiana Republican spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002.
Scalise, the No. 3 House Republican leader, skipped last year’s events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march. But he told The Hill at the time that he would be there in 2016.
Details are still being worked out, so it’s unclear which other lawmakers might join Scalise in Selma the first weekend in March. Typically, the Faith and Politics Institute sponsors a bipartisan, congressional civil rights pilgrimage to Selma, but this year the institute is organizing a trip to mark the one-year anniversary of the Charleston church shooting instead.
In late 2014, a Louisiana-based blogger reported that Scalise, while serving as a state legislator more than a dozen years ago, had addressed the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a hate group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
The Hill later reported that Scalise, serving in the state legislature in 1996, had tried to kill a resolution apologizing for slavery. Other reports highlighted his votes against the creation of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
But in an interview last year, Scalise argued that the media had constructed a “false narrative” about his racial views, adding: “I also reject bigotry and I reject things that they [EURO] stood for."
Some House Republicans speculated that the race controversy might force Scalise to resign from his leadership job. But he spent the past year rehabilitating his image and shoring up support in his GOP conference.
Scalise shared personal stories about how he previously coached a basketball team comprised of kids from a housing project in inner city New Orleans. He hosted Marc Morial and other black civic leaders in the Capitol. And he’s held quarterly meetings with Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus who’s been pressing GOP leaders to reduce poverty, enact criminal justice reforms and renew the Voting Rights Act.
Butterfield hasn’t had specific conversations with Scalise about any upcoming civil rights trips but said he welcomed Republican participation. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attended last year’s events in Selma, while his predecessor, former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), was there in 2013.
“Every opportunity we get to expose those who are uninformed on African American history to the real-life experience of African Americans in the South, I think it makes for a better policymaker,” Butterfield told The Hill.
—Mike Lillis contributed.