Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., conducts a news conference in the RNC after a meeting of House republicans, July 15, 2014.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller
Updated: January 5, 2015 5:56 PM ET

The White House is not formally taking a position on the fate of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who admitted last month to addressing a white supremacist group twelve years ago while a state legislator, but it’s not missing the chance to turn it into a black eye for Republican leaders either.

A day before the new Congress is to be sworn in, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Scalise’s fate lies with his Republican colleagues after he admitted to speaking to a group linked to Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise maintained that he did not realize it was a hate group at the time and apologized for his mistake.

“Who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are and what their values should be,” Earnest said Monday.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have publicly stood by Scalise after his apology, though some Republicans have called on him to step aside from.

Twice repeating Scalise’s quote that he is “David Duke without the baggage,” Earnest said that President Barack Obama believes that “it’s ultimately [House Republicans’ decision to make,” whether Scalise serves as whip.

“Who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s values and priorities are,” he repeated.

A GOP leadership aide said the White House’s critique was “awfully short-sighted” Monday afternoon. “The White House piling on Rep. Scalise is awfully short-sighted,” the aide said. “As House Republican whip, Scalise will play a crucial role in determining the fate of the President’s bipartisan legislative priorities – like trade – over the next two years.”

 

Write to Zeke J Miller at zeke.miller@time.com.

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