The White House responded on Monday to controversy surrounding House majority whip Steve Scalise, and didn’t hold back in its criticism of the GOP’s decision to keep Scalise in his leadership position.
“There’s no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a press conference. “Ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as ‘David Duke without the baggage,’ so it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.”
Earnest’s comments come as Republican support for Scalise grows stronger following the revelation that he spoke at an event that was hosted by a white supremacist organization affiliated with former Klu Klux Klan head David Duke in 2002. Scalise admitted last week to speaking at the event after a report was published by blogger Lamar J. White, though the Louisiana Rep. repeatedly claimed that he had no knowledge of the organization’s ties at the time.
“More than a decade ago, Rep. Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate,” House Speaker John Boehner said after meeting with Scalise, who is the No. 3 Republican in the House. Boehner maintained that he had “full confidence” in Scalise as House majority whip.
Despite Scalise denying any knowledge of Duke’s affiliation with the group, some critics just aren't buying it.
“Seriously? He didn’t know?” DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said. “The group was named the ‘European-American Unity and Rights Organization,’ it was founded by David Duke, and he was invited by two of Duke’s longtime associates. It doesn’t get much more clear than that.”
Earnest called out the Republican Party for their handling of the situation, saying that Scalise’s elevation to majority whip will ultimately reflect how the party is portrayed to the younger generation.
“We've also heard a lot from Republicans particularly over the last few years, including the chairman of the Republican Party, about how Republicans need to broaden their appeal to young people and to women, to gays and to minorities, that the success of their party will depend on their ability to broaden that outreach,” Earnest said. “So it ultimately will be up to individual Republicans in Congress to decide whether or not elevating Mr. Scalise into leadership will effectively reinforce that strategy.”
While Earnest sharply criticized Scalise and the GOP over the speech, he did not call for the congressman to step down. Backlash has come from both sides of the aisle, with Republican Senator John Barrasso even speaking out against Scalise’s speech, but nobody has directly called for his resignation.