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Scalise apologizes for appearance at 2002 white supremacist event

Tuesday afternoon, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, issued a statement apologizing for his appearance twelve years ago at a white supremacist event, saying, "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."

House Speaker John Boehner released a statement supporting Scalise. "More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate," Boehner's statement read. Scalise, he said, has his full confidence as whip.

Scalise had delivered the speech at issue to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), which was founded by white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Blogger Lamar White Jr., who writes about Louisiana state politics, was the first to report the speech.

The story comes just days before the new Congress convenes, with Scalise poised to shape House Republicans' agenda in his first full term as whip.

At the same time, American voters have been showing increased racial polarization in their political preferences, with white majorities siding overwhelmingly with Republicans in the 2014 midterms and racial minorities continuing their strong support for Democrats. Many strategists say both parties must figure out how to reach beyond their respective bases.

Scalise, 49, ascended to his leadership post in June in the chain of events that followed then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprise defeat in a Republican primary.

Scalise won the whip race with the solid backing of House conservatives, particularly Southerners who wanted a greater leadership voice, given the region's role in giving Republicans their largest House majority since the start of the Great Depression.

He won his seat in a 2008 special election after helping build a more cohesive Republican caucus in a Louisiana statehouse that historically had not operated along party lines. His district includes majority white portions of New Orleans and surrounding suburbs, reaching to coastal and bayou communities anchored by the energy and fishing industries.