NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The No. 3 Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, gave a speech at a conference of white nationalists when he was a state lawmaker in 2002, the Washington Post reported on Monday, citing his spokeswoman.
Spokeswoman Moira Bagley said Scalise, majority whip in the House of Representatives, was not familiar with the ideology of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, when he attended the event in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, the Washington Post reported.
EURO was founded in 2000 by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan who served in the Louisiana House of Representatives and ran a high-profile race for governor in 1991.
Responding to the report, Scalise told the Times-Picayune newspaper on Monday he had no involvement with the group and does not recall speaking at the event.
“I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise said.
He also said he spoke with many during that period, including the League of Women Voters, a group the Republican described as “liberal.”
“I still went and spoke to them. I spoke to any group that called,” he said.
Scalise attended the EURO event to build support for his efforts to eliminate political slush funds and to oppose increased taxes on the middle class, Bagley said, according to the Post.
“The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic,” she said, according to the newspaper.
Bagley did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The revelation comes as Republicans, who control the House, are preparing to cement their grip in Congress as they take charge in the Senate.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization, classifies EURO as a hate group.
Erick Erickson, a prominent conservative blogger, expressed skepticism that Scalise was unaware of EURO’s agenda at the time of the conference.
“How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?” Erickson wrote on his RedState blog.
Scalise’s appearance at the event was first reported on Sunday by Louisiana politics blogger Lamar White Jr.
Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Sharon Bernstein, Mohammad Zargham, Robert Birsel