Two civil rights groups have requested a meeting with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to discuss his speech to a white supremacist group in 2002, calling his explanation for the incident "implausible."

Scalise has said he regrets speaking to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise, then a state representative, said he did not know about the group's beliefs. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, as well as a former mayor of New Orleans, wrote to Scalise a letter, dated Jan. 6, expressing doubts about that explanation. 

"In that regard — and not withstanding your explanation — there is a question about whether your 2002 speech to EURO was a subtle 'dog whistle' of affinity to David Duke’s group of supporters," they write. "While we would prefer not to believe this, as you might imagine, we believe the questions surrounding the current controversy deserve further clarification.

“It seems implausible to us that, as a state representative with national aspirations at the time, you would not have heard about the Louisiana-based EURO, which was already a well-known hate group led by America’s most famous white supremacists," the letter adds. 

The letter also raises other issues from Scalise's past, such as his vote against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday. 

The letter comes as Republican leadership, which has backed Scalise, is seeking to put the controversy behind it at the opening of the new Republican-led Congress. 

“I reject bigotry of all forms,” Scalise said Wednesday at a leadership press conference. “The people who know me best, both here and especially back home, even people I've been on opposite ends politically with, know the truth and know what's in my heart.”

A spokeswoman for Scalise did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Scalise would accept the meeting with the groups.

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House, have for the most part raised concerns about Scalise's actions but have not called on him to step down from the leadership post.  

Another civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has called for Scalise to give up the whip position. 

This letter calls for the meeting to discuss reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, an issue also raised by Pelosi's office in responding to Scalise. The advocates did not go as far as to call on Scalise to resign. 

"It is of particular concern to us that a member chosen to be part of the majority’s leadership team in the House of Representatives, whose responsibilities include protecting the interests of all Americans, would legitimize the existence of such a group," the letter states.