House GOP leaders are closing ranks around Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), defending him from calls for his resignation after he admitted speaking to a white supremacist group in 2002.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both released near simultaneous statements on Tuesday, supporting Scalise and praising his character. Boehner even went on to say that he has “my full confidence as our Whip.”
Scalise, the No. 3 GOP leader, on Tuesday released a new statement acknowledging a speech he gave to a group founded by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
He called the speech a “mistake I regret” and strongly condemned the group’s message.
Even though they’re coalescing around Scalise, the story is still an unwelcome headache for Republican leadership. Ahead of the 114th Congress’s arrival next week, they wanted the narrative to focus on the largest House GOP majority since World War II partnering with a new Senate majority to craft a unified agenda to buck President Obama.
Boehner and McCarthy’s statements also leave room for a change of heart. If the story dies down, Scalise will most likely survive. But if more damaging stories start to trickle out the GOP leader could be back on the hot seat — just like former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (La.), who resigned from leadership in 2002 under pressure over racially-charged comments.
Because the comments touch on race, they have the potential to do damage to the GOP brand at a time when the party is gearing up to attract more supporters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
House Republicans are hoping to showcase a more diverse membership when the 114th Congress gavels in next week. The GOP will welcome the first black female GOP lawmaker in party history, Mia Love (R-Utah). Fellow freshman Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) will join her as the only two black Republican lawmakers in the House.
After the midterm elections, Scalise touted the incoming GOP freshmen as “a great new diverse group of members.”