POLITICS
01/06/2015 12:59 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

Civil Rights Icon John Lewis Calls On Steve Scalise To Apologize To Congress

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WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who is often referred to as the conscience of Congress on civil rights, called on one of the House's top GOP officials to apologize for speaking at a gathering of white supremacists in 2002.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House Republican whip, recently admitted to speaking at the conference hosted by the white supremacist group European-American Unity and Rights Organization. The group, which is now largely inactive, was founded by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and fights for "white civil rights."

"I think somehow and in some way, he should come clean and say what he did and apologize to members of Congress, to his colleagues on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle," Lewis told The Huffington Post at the ceremonial swearing-in on Tuesday morning for members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

When asked whether he believed anything Scalise said so far constituted an apology, Lewis replied, "I don't think so."

Scalise's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Scalise's controversial speaking engagement was dug up in late December by Louisiana political blogger by Lamar White Jr. Scalise's office quickly tried to distance Scalise from the white supremacists.

"In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families. He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question," said Scalise spokeswoman Moira Bagley Smith.

Scalise called his speech "a mistake I regret," adding, "I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold. I am very disappointed that anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also put out statements supporting their colleague.

Lewis played a central role in the civil rights movement, serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963 to 1966 and as a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington. He helped spearhead the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, which became known as "Bloody Sunday" when Alabama state troopers brutally attacked the peaceful protesters.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the year of the "Bloody Sunday" protest. The protest took place in 1965.

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