June 3rd, 2009
12:30 PM ET
13 years ago

Gingrich: I shouldn't have called Sotomayor 'racist'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/06/art.newt.jpg caption="Gingrich tweeted last week that Sotomayor is a 'latina woman racist.'"] WASHINGTON (CNN) - A week after sparking a political firestorm with a line on Twitter, Newt Gingrich is looking to cool the controversy in print.

Last week, the former House Speaker alluded to a line in a 2001 speech by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in which President Obama's Supreme Court pick said she hoped that a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Gingrich tweeted: "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman.' new racism is no better than old racism" and "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

(Update: Sen. Jeff Sesssions Reaction)

The comments illuminated a strategy divide in GOP ranks over the Supreme Court fight, with high-profile faces like Gingrich and conservative host Rush Limbaugh highlighting what they called Sotomayor's racially divisive remarks, and leaders like National Republican Senatorial Committee John Cornyn urging the party to back away from that line of attack.

On Wednesday, Gingrich penned a lengthy op-ed in conservative Human Events that seemed to back away from his initial reaction.

"Shortly after President Obama nominated her to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, I read Judge Sonia Sotomayor's now famous words: 'I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life,'" he wrote.

"My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice.

"With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)."

President Obama and White House aides said Sotomayor's choice of words was a poor one, but immediately fought back against critics who branded the judge racist.

"I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last Wednesday.

UPDATE: Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Gingrich's decision to revisit his original statements. "I'm very glad he backed off," he told Dana Bash Wednesday, in a CNN exclusive. "I think that's unusual, that commentators do that, and I think it was very good that he did. I think that will... help us. I think that will help us have a real good discussion about the serious issues that the nations faces and the court faces."

Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (305 Responses)
  1. J. R.

    An apology with conditions is NOT an apology. Latinos (and everyone else) should remember Newt's remarks – and Rush Limbaugh's as well (particularly since Rush is the Leader of the Republican Party) when voting at the next election!

    June 3, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  2. RealityKing

    Prejudice is not racist., close, but not the same.

    June 3, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  3. Brian in AZ

    Gingrich's statement represened the hardline conservative line on Sotomayor in the GOP conservative-moderate internal debate. This redaction, combined with Christie in New Jersey, sends a message of who is winning. Moderates are just more likely to get elected (mainly because the majority conservative base that elected Bush has disappeared in Iraq).

    GOP = Good Old Practicality.

    June 3, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  4. Steph

    He realized that all of his old racist and sexist quotes would come back to haunt him so he decided to get off his high horse and try to let this quietly fade away.

    June 3, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  5. BKrause

    Perhaps Gingrich, who is a member of the Bohemian Club and attends the summer encampment at the Bohemian Grove in northern California, can explain to us why there are no women allowed at this world power conclave that is so exclusionary. Then he can speak to Sotomayor's perceived weaknesses.

    June 3, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  6. RealityKing

    And Sonia Sotomayor is clearly prejudice..

    June 3, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  7. Lisa DC

    One word...Moron

    June 3, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  8. Roger Knapp

    Gingrich is apparently not aware his staff stole the line about Sotomayor being a racist from Rush Limbaugh. It is difficult to remain a viable political candidate when you can't even come up with your own original punch line about a Supreme Court nominee.

    June 3, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  9. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I have made plenty of "foot in mouth" statements. I have learned to slow down what I say most of the time. I think that Gingrich has to do that as well. He has greater exposure than me, and he needs to understand that his words carry weight with many people.

    June 3, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  10. morris diehl

    Newt just can't get his story straight. Maybe he can actually finally tell the true story of how he went to his then wife's hospital rooom, while she was recovering from a cancer operation and announced he wanted a divorce.

    June 3, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. Lou from CT

    I am glad Mr. GIngrich has stepped back from his initial comments. Words can wound more than one knows.

    June 3, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  12. Liberal4Obama

    Mr. Gingrich has not only shown that he is intellectually dishonest but a REAL racist

    June 3, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. kybill

    Ms. Sotomayor is probably not a racists, but her comments surely were! They were obviously done for an audience that enjoyed her comments.

    June 3, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  14. phoenix86

    You are just an old, white idiot!!!

    June 3, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  15. Takeshi

    so he is saying NOthing!! so whats the point. He could have said "OH! MY dumb butt actually read the hole panel conversation and see it was NOT what i thought it was. SOrry for using the Limba! talking points" That would be a 200% more believable.

    June 3, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  16. Mike in NYC

    Despite his myriad negatives, he was right in this case. And wrong to back down. It always makes you look weak. "Strong and direct" is how politics should be played.

    He's no longer an elected official, but may be seeking office in the future, so that may explain it.

    This all strikes me as managed political theater, anyway.

    June 3, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  17. Scout

    Newt Gingrich is a lying, hypocritical, egotistical, sexist, bigoted homophobe. Way to go, Republicans. Nice choice for your party front-man. Keep applauding the fat little bag of gas–your horrible party will never win another election and that would be great for the country.

    June 3, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  18. BMS in NC

    Ahhh, Newty. You let the vicious genie out of the bottle, and you can't put it back in now. Your initial reaction showed your true colors. People will not forget.

    June 3, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  19. MJ - San Antonio, TX

    I am Hispanic and I do consider this nominee to be racist. I just do not trust her to do her job without being biased.

    June 3, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  20. carlo

    Nah. Ya think Newt?

    June 3, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  21. MJHS1967

    Jerks: #1 is Newt 🙁 #2 is Limpballs 🙁 and #3 is Steele the TOKEN 🙁

    June 3, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  22. philo

    I guess all those prescription drugs are making Newt confused.......................

    June 3, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  23. ced

    newt is the one who is racist. it takes one to know one. enough said. besides, newt will say anything to win the support of his right wing white men only racist repubublican party.

    June 3, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  24. Taylor

    Gingrich shouldn't have called alot of people alot of things. He's a complete bag of wind. "Kissing up" now won't change the damage this man has done to so many.

    June 3, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  25. GaryNOVA

    Gingrich: "She's a racist" (I'm uncomforatable with Hispanics)

    Later; Ginrich: "she's not a racist" (maybe i shouldn't of let people know that I'm uncomfortable with Hispanics)

    June 3, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
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