Revelations that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, of Metairie, spoke to a group of white nationalists many years ago don’t square with the Scalise we have come to know and respect.

Scalise is a likeable political leader known for building bridges within his own Republican Party and across the aisle as well. That gift for empathy and consensus helped get him elected last year as majority whip, the No. 3 leadership post in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Scalise’s meteoric rise is now under challenge after a liberal blogger reported that Scalise spoke to a conference of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization in Metairie in 2002, when Scalise was a state representative. Scalise has said that he didn’t know about the group’s views or its affiliation with former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke when he spoke to EURO. He has publicly denounced the group’s philosophy.

Scalise’s initial assertion that he didn’t know about EURO’s background when he spoke to the group — reportedly about tax policy — is hard to believe. We’re more encouraged by Scalise’s later, less equivocal statement of regret about accepting a speaking engagement from extremists.

Scalise certainly isn’t the first politician who’s kept company with odious characters. During his first race for governor, Mike Foster’s campaign purchased mailing lists from Duke. Despite that lapse, Foster governed well for two terms.

Perhaps the more compelling precedent concerns President Barack Obama, who, before he became president, was a member of a church pastored by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a cleric whose toxic pronouncements included the suggestion that Americans somehow prompted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because of aggressive foreign policy.

When Obama’s association with Wright became an issue during his first presidential campaign, he cut his ties with the pastor and distanced himself from the controversial cleric’s views.

Obama’s victories in two elections for the nation’s highest office suggest that voters were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on his connection with Wright — a relationship that appears to have been much more sustained than Scalise’s involvement with EURO.

We don’t believe that Obama’s history with Wright makes the president a political radical, and short of any further revelations, we won’t assume that Scalise’s appearance before EURO makes him an extremist, either.

Among Scalise’s defenders is U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the African-American Democrat from New Orleans who often works closely with Scalise in Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

Responding to the EURO controversy, Richmond declared that Scalise doesn’t have a “racist bone in his body.”

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner also affirmed his support for Scalise.We think such support is deserved.