By Ben Kamisar - 12/30/14 02:00 PM EST
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Tuesday he regrets speaking to a white supremacist group as a state legislator in 2002 and that it was a mistake.
In a statement released by his office Tuesday, Scalise officially acknowledged that he spoke to the group while trying to “build support” for a plan to cut spending and tax hikes.
“It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”
Scalise if fighting to keep his job as the third-ranking Republican in the House following revelations that surfaced last weekend on a local Louisiana blog.
The blog published posts from a white supremacist message board linking Scalise to the appearance at an event for a group founded by David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Democrats have ripped the GOP over the issue, and linked it to dwindling support for Republicans from minority voters. The Southern Poverty Law Center on Tuesday said Scalise should resign from GOP leadership.
GOP leaders have offered support for Scalise, however, with Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio) announcing he retained full confidence in Scalise at roughly the same time Scalise announced his regret for the incident.
Boehner said Scalise was “right to acknowledge” the “error in judgment.”
“Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character,” Boehner said.
“He has my full confidence as our Whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also supported Scalise in a statement, adding that he’s a “friend” who “does not share the beliefs of that organization.”
Scalise did not apologize outright and said that he’s “disappointed that anyone would try to infer” that he supports these groups for political gain. He also said that he would continue to fight for his beliefs and noted that the group he spoke with rejected his own religion.
“As a Catholic, these groups hold views that are vehemently opposed to my own personal faith, and I reject that kind of hateful bigotry,” he said.
“Those who know me best know I have always been passionate about helping, serving, and fighting for every family that I represent. And I will continue to do so."