Pressure was building on Majority Whip Steve Scalise Tuesday in the wake of revelations the Louisiana congressman spoke at a meeting of white supremacists in 2002 — but Speaker John A. Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are standing by the No. 3 Republican in the House.
“More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate," Boehner said in a statement Tuesday. "Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our Whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.”
A few minutes later, McCarthy weighed in with his own vote of confidence.
“Congressman Scalise acknowledged he made a mistake and has condemned the views that organization espouses. I’ve known him as a friend for many years and I know that he does not share the beliefs of that organization," McCarthy said.
The Boehner and McCarthy comments come amid calls from some — including the Southern Poverty Law Center — for Scalise's resignation after the Louisiana congressman acknowledged Tuesday that he addressed the group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana politician David Duke.
Scalise, who was a state lawmaker at the time, said Tuesday the appearance a mistake. "Twelve years ago, I spoke to many different Louisiana groups as a state representative, trying to build support for legislation that focused on cutting wasteful state spending, eliminating government corruption, and stopping tax hikes,” Scalise said in a statement issued by his office. "One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and 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. As a Catholic, these groups hold views that are vehemently opposed to my own personal faith, and I reject that kind of hateful bigotry. Those who know me best know I have always been passionate about helping, serving, and fighting for every family that I represent. And I will continue to do so."
In response to the unfolding story, Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office connected Republicans to an extremist agenda but stopping short of calling for Scalise's resignation.
Pelosi Communications Director Drew Hammill called Scalise's "involvement" with the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, "deeply troubling for a top Republican leader in the House."
"However, actions speak louder than whatever Steve Scalise said to that group in 2002," Hammill said in a statement. "Just this year, House Republicans have refused to restore the Voting Rights Act or pass comprehensive immigration reform, and leading Republican members are now actively supporting in the federal courts efforts by another known extremist group, the American Center for Law and Justice, which is seeking to overturn the President’s immigration executive actions."
That the statement comes from Hammill and not Pelosi herself is significant in its own right. It would have been a more forceful indictment from Pelosi, not her spokesman. And Hammill never calls on Scalise to step down from his No. 3 position.
A 1999 Roll Call story revealed that Scalise was well-aware of David Duke's politics, and he seemed to be courting Duke voters during a potential bid for a vacated House seat in Louisiana.
Hanging over all the Scalise news is the Jan. 6 speaker election in the House. A shakeup in House leadership during this critical time could be dangerous to Boehner, who is expected to face some opposition. But Scalise staying in GOP leadership could also be a distraction in the new Congress, and the somewhat muted statement from Pelosi's office on Scalise could be the snowball at the top of the press release mountain.
Related: What Scalise and Vitter Told Roll Call About David Duke in 1999 The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.