WASHINGTON -- The leaders of two prominent civil rights groups have asked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to meet with them to explain his 2002 speech to a white supremacist group, saying they find his claim that he didn't know who he was talking to that day "implausible."
Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which represents 200 civil rights and human rights organizations, and Marc Morial of the National Urban League said in a Tuesday letter to Scalise that they have questions about his past appearance before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, a group formed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
A Louisiana blogger last week uncovered Scalise's attendance at the 2002 event and it has since blown up. Scalise has said he regrets giving the speech and rejects all forms of bigotry, but maintains he was a short-staffed state lawmaker at the time and didn't know he was speaking to a neo-Nazi group.
In their Tuesday letter, the civil rights advocates say they appreciate Scalise's condemnation of bigotry, but find it hard to believe he didn't know that EURO was a group led by Duke, especially since Duke's colleague, Kenny Knight, was the one who invited Scalise to speak. Knight and Scalise were neighbors.
"To be candid ... it seems implausible to us that, as a state representative with national aspirations at the time, you would not have heard about the Louisiana-based EURO, which was already a well-known hate group led by America’s most famous white racist, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke," write Henderson and Morial.
"We are requesting, by way of this letter, the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these concerns and related issues regarding the leadership agenda for the 114th Congress," they add.
A Scalise spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on whether Scalise would meet with the groups.
House Republican leaders have stood by Scalise keeping his leadership post. Democrats have been critical, but have refrained from calling on him step down. That may be because they have plans to drag out the controversy.
Civil rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis (D) said Tuesday it would help if Scalise apologized to his colleagues for speaking at the event.
"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.
Asked if he thought Scalise's responses so far have constituted an apology, Lewis replied, "I don't think so."