White House spokesman Josh Earnest Monday tried to portray the Republican Party as allied to a Louisiana white racist group.
His aggressive statement helps keep the president on the offensive in the media, following his historic defeat in the November election.
“It is is the responsibility of the House Republican conference to choose their leaders,” Earnest told reporters after he was asked about claims that Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise met with pro-white racists in 2002.
But, Earnest added, “Mr Scalise reportedly described himself as ‘David Duke without the baggage.'”
The mid-1990s statement was attributed to Scalise by a former reporter in Louisiana.
Earnest used the controversy to undermine the GOP, which now controls both the House and the Senate.
“The success of their party will depend on their ability to broader their outreach. … [President Barack Obama] believes it is ultimately their decision to make, but there’s no arguing that who Republicans decide [will be their leaders] says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.”
The media furor over Scalise — the top GOP whip — was sparked by a Washington Post report, which said that he had spoken at members of a pro-white racial lobby in 2002.
Top GOP leaders have backed Scalise, while many conservative leaders have kept their distance, partly because of conflicts between them and the leadership.
Those conflicts include the GOP leadership’s limp response to the president’s unpopular rollback of immigration law and his award of work permits to at least five million migrants, despite his failure to help companies rebuild employment after the 2008 crash.
However, the organizers of the group said Scalise didn’t speak to the group’s members. Instead, he spoke to a neighborhood group that was meeting in the same hotel in the morning before the race group met in the afternoon.
The initial uproar has largely disappeared because, so far, there’s no records or videos tying Scalise to the race-based group.
He has also been supported by African-American politicians in the state, including Democratic politicians.