Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York is the first member of the U.S. Congress to call on House Speaker John Boehner to ask for House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise’s resignation.
Maloney wants Scalise’s scalp after the revelation that Scalise had a years-long personal and political relationship with Kenneth Knight, the top political aide to former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.
“It is beyond offensive that a member of House leadership would knowingly court such a hate group, and it is doubly insulting that Congressman Scalise asserts that he didn’t know who David Duke was or the hate promoted by that group,” Maloney told The Hill newspaper. “Speaker Boehner should demand Congressman Scalise resign his leadership post immediately.”
That relationship included Duke’s one time campaign manager asking Scalise, then a state lawmaker, to speak around an event at one of Duke’s organizations called EURO. Scalise has admitted to and apologized for speaking at the event, but there’s some confusion about when, and to what group he spoke. Knight has now said that Scalise spoke at a civic association event that was in the same venue as the EURO event.
Nonetheless, it was widely known in Louisiana politics Knight was associated with Duke. Making matters worse, Scalise—according to interviews Knight and Duke gave to the Washington Post—regularly communicated about issues important to Duke with Knight. Also, six years after that 2002 event during Scalise’s 2008 U.S. House campaign, Knight phone banked for Scalise’s campaign and donated $1,000 to Scalise. Scalise has not returned the donation.
After Scalise apologized for the 2002 event, Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy backed up their Whip with public statements arguing it was an isolated incident and error in judgment. But right as their statements backing Scalise came out, the further information about Scalise’s political conversations with Knight became public—and neither Scalise nor Boehner nor McCarthy have answered any questions about Scalise’s communications with Knight, Knight’s work for Scalise’s congressional campaign in 2008 or his political donation to Scalise.
Some on the right are defending Scalise, with conservative journalist Quin Hillyer leading the charge. Hillyer recently ran for Congress in nearby Alabama, where he lost to Bradley Byrne in a multi-candidate race.
“The first time I ever spoke to Steve Scalise, it was in the context of his helping me and his cousin, state senator Ben Bagert, block the political career of David Duke,” Hillyer wrote in National Review on Wednesday. “In the quarter-century since that 1989 phone conversation, Scalise has given no indication that he holds any views anywhere near as odious as Duke’s racist and anti-Semitic garbage, and plenty of indications directly to the contrary — indeed, compellingly so.”
Hillyer wrote that because of that, Scalise “deserves the benefit of the doubt” about the 2002 event.
“I take very seriously the moral imperative to ‘give no quarter’ to Duke and his ilk,” Hillyer wrote. “I was a founding board member of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, a group formed specifically to block Duke’s political rise. I fought him tooth-and-nail within the Republican party. Later, as a journalist, I broke award-winning stories demonstrating Duke’s continuing Nazi ties.”
But Scalise hasn’t answered questions about Knight’s work for his campaign, about his donation to his campaign, and about all the conversations they had for years about political issues—what Duke told the Washington Post was issues he cared about.
Meanwhile, earlier Wednesday, liberal columnist Stephanie Grace reported that nearly two decades ago Scalise introduced himself to her as “David Duke without the baggage.”
“This is what I remember about the first time I met Steve Scalise nearly 20 years ago: He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage,” she wrote in the liberal-leaning New Orleans Advocate.