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December 30th, 2014
06:11 PM ET

House Speaker, Louisiana Democrat back embattled Rep. Scalise

Washington (CNN) - House Republican leadership is standing by Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 3-ranking House Republican, in the wake of a firestorm of criticism surrounding his 2002 speech to a white supremacist group.

Scalise's position as House majority whip has been thrown into doubt by the revelation, and the congressman had been calling members to gauge the level of support he had from his party, according to a senior House Republican source.

But House Speaker John Boehner, in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, said Scalise has his "full confidence" as whip.

"More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate. 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," he said.

His message came shortly before a similar message of support from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The controversy surrounding Scalise's address to a group founded by former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke had become a major distraction for Boehner and his leadership team since the story drew national attention on Monday.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Scalise said he spoke to the group while he was barnstorming the district to build support for a piece of legislation — and that speaking to them was a "mistake I regret."

"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," he said in the statement.

"I am very disappointed that anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain," he added, and decried the group's "hateful bigotry."

The statement did not address how much Scalise knew about the group at the time of the speech.

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