Black Lawmakers Discuss Failed Attempts to Meet With Republican Rep. Scalise Over Speech to White Supremacist Group

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on January 7, 2015. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Scalise to meet with him about a speech he gave to a white supremacist group in 2002. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) (Photo: Win McNamee, Getty Images)
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on January 7, 2015. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Scalise to meet with him about a speech he gave to a white supremacist group in 2002. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo: Win McNamee, Getty Images)

Republican Rep. Steve Scalise has so far not accepted invitations from black congressional lawmakers to explain why he spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002 and to discuss the possibility of supporting legislation important to the black community.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, invited Scalise, of Louisiana, earlier this month to speak to caucus members.

“I thought it would be a good gesture on his part,” Thompson said.

Scalise also hasn’t accepted similar invitations from the National Urban League and from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a national coalition of civil rights groups.

House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the black caucus, said recently he and Scalise have informally discussed the possibility of meeting, but nothing has been finalized.

Caucus members hope Scalise will take the lead on some issues important to African-Americans, including legislation that would restore a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act thrown out by the Supreme Court in 2013.

“I think we can talk to him about the voting rights act, criminal justice reform and all of those things to try to get him there,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, a member of the black caucus and the lone Democrat in the Louisiana delegation.”Will he ultimately get there? I don’t know.”

Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House, has said he regrets addressing the European-American Unity and Rights Organization when he was a state lawmaker. He said that at the time he didn’t know much about the group, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

His office did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Discussing the 2002 speech with Congressional Black Caucus members would help Scalise reassure them “that this was an innocent mistake, it was an isolated incident, there was no malicious intent on his part,” said Joshua Stockley, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

“Any rehabilitation process is a lengthy process,” Stockley said. “He will have to demonstrate — not just with words, but with his actions over the next year or two or maybe longer — again, that this was an isolated thing.”

But Stockley said it would be difficult for Scalise to support a voting rights bill, which many Republicans say is unnecessary.

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SOURCE: USA Today – Deborah Barfield Berry

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