As Washington waits to see whether Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise will become the new House speaker, claims have emerged suggesting he’d compared himself to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke “without the baggage.”
Scalise beat Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan in a 113-99 secret ballot at the GOP conference on Wednesday to be next in line to replace Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker following McCarthy’s historic ousting.
However, as the race for the speaker’s chair plays out, a claim that Scalise had compared himself to David Duke was shared widely online.
In a post on X by former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, sent on Wednesday, and seen 147,600 times, Reich claimed that “Steven Scalise….reportedly called himself ‘David Duke without the baggage.'”
“And now he wants to be speaker of the House?” Reich added.
“When I say the GOP is an extremist party, this is why.”
As it turns out, the claim deserves some scrutiny.
Did Steve Scalise call himself ‘David Duke without the baggage’?
The quote was mentioned in a 2014 New York Times report on David Duke’s 1991 campaign to become elected Louisiana governor.
Scalise is mentioned on several occasions in the article, published when the representative for Louisiana faced intense criticism for speaking at a conference hosted by the white supremacist European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, in 2002.
“One of the many groups that I spoke to… was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn,” Scalise said in a statement, reported by The Washington Post.
“It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”
The New York Times article on Duke later goes on to quote “Stephanie Grace, a Louisiana political reporter and columnist” who recalled meeting Scalise for the first time.
“He was explaining his politics and we were in this getting-to-know-each-other stage,” Grace said.
“He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage.
“I think he meant he supported the same policy ideas as David Duke, but he wasn’t David Duke, that he didn’t have the same feelings about certain people as David Duke did.”
The New York Times said Scalise’s representatives did not respond for comment. Newsweek has contacted Scalise’s office for a response.
On this alone, we can’t say for certain whether Scalise did or didn’t compare himself to David Duke. Furthermore, the quote from Grace suggests Scalise’s admiration, if there were any, were of the policies the former KKK leader ran with in his 1991 race for the Louisiana governor’s mansion.
That is not to say that Scalise did not make the comparison either, but the quote it comes from has been truncated and misses important context which may modify its meaning.
There are around a dozen House Republicans who said they will support Jim Jordan for the House speaker role or who have not yet been convinced to back Scalise, setting up another potentially chaotic path to choose a new House speaker following the 15 rounds of voting McCarthy needed in January to clinch the role.