The scandal over Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise’s 2002 speech to a white supremacist group has so badly damaged his image inside the House Republican Conference that he faces serious questions over his political future, according to interviews with multiple aides and lawmakers — including some Scalise allies.
Scalise’s job as House majority whip remains safe – and Speaker John Boehner has publicly backed him — but he may be too toxic for some Republican circles. Top GOP aides and lawmakers question whether he’ll be able to raise funds, especially on trips to New York or Los Angeles. Senior figures within the party doubt that the corporate chieftains and rich donors who bankroll Republican candidates will give him money to keep campaign coffers filled. Others say it will be difficult for him to persuade lawmakers to support the House Republican agenda.
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Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, found themselves defending Scalise back home, a potentially fatal flaw for someone who wants to serve in leadership. Many of these lawmakers are faced with blistering editorials from hometown newspapers calling for Scalise to step down. Conservative activists like Mark Levin, Erick Erickson and Sarah Palin have all said he should be booted out of GOP leadership.
“As far as him going up to the Northeast, or going out to Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago, he’s damaged,” said a GOP lawmaker who asked not to be named. “This thing is still smoking. Nobody is really fanning the flames yet. … The thing that concerns me is that there are people who are still out there digging on this right now.”
Democrats, for their part, are working to craft a sustained attack against the Louisiana Republican, using Scalise’s continued role in the leadership to launch broadsides against dozens of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers.
“If Republicans want to keep a white supremacist sympathizer as a top leader and the person in charge of telling their Members how to vote, they will pay the price,” said Jesse Ferguson, a top aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Republican donors won’t want to be seen with him and vulnerable Republican members can’t afford to be associated with his agenda.”
On Monday, the White House weighed in for the first time, with spokesman Josh Earnest commenting that it “says a lot about what the [GOP] Conference’s priorities and values are” that Scalise has remained in leadership. Earnest twice repeated a Scalise quote from before he was in Congress that he is like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke “without the baggage.”
House Democrats are exultant that Scalise is still the majority whip, seeing the controversy over the Louisiana Republican as the best bit of news they’ve gotten since their crushing defeat on Election Day. With Earnest seeking to fan the flames by launching broadsides from the White House podium, House Democrats are trying to exploit the controversy as well.
Senior Democratic officials say they think the Scalise scandal could be worth millions of dollars in donations from their own supporters in coming months. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a press release to 30 GOP-held districts asking whether that member will “stand behind Scalise despite Scalise’s past rallying voters at white supremacists rallies?”
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