WASHINGTON -- In January, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was damaged goods. He was struggling to distance himself from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke after revelations that he spoke at a 2002 gathering hosted by a white supremacist group. It was not the image the GOP wanted to project heading into a presidential election.
Now, just 10 months later, Scalise may instead take on an even bigger role in the party and become majority leader, helping shape the direction and policies of House Republicans.
House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) surprise announcement Friday that he would resign Oct. 30 has set off a leadership battle within the GOP caucus. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) threw his hat into the ring Monday to replace Boehner. He is widely expected to get the job, although Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), a member of a conservative faction in the House, is also vying for the position.
Scalise is technically next in line to become majority leader, but he will have a fight for the spot. He suffered a setback Monday, when Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) backed Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).
Scalise, meanwhile, has been calling lawmakers to build support for his candidacy, according to the Times-Picayune. A group of lobbyists pulling for Scalise met Monday to strategize on helping him get elected.
In 2002, Scalise spoke at a conference hosted by the white supremacist group European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which was founded by Duke. After a Louisiana blogger dug up Scalise's appearance, the congressman claimed he was unaware of the group's racist views. But three years earlier, in 1999, then-state Rep. Scalise told a Washington newspaper that he agreed with many of Duke's "conservative" views.
In January, when news broke of Scalise's appearance, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said the congressman should apologize to his colleagues. But House Republican leaders -- including Boehner and McCarthy -- continued to stand by Scalise.
House Republicans are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss electing new leaders.
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