March 21st, 2010
05:02 PM ET
13 years ago

House Republicans denounce racial slurs hurled at Democrats

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="On CNN's State of the Union, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, called the slur directed at Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, 'contemptible.' 'I denounce it in the strongest terms,' Pence said."]
Washington (CNN) - House Republican leaders criticized the use of slurs against Democratic congressmen by protesters on Capitol Hill Saturday, but they called them isolated incidents that shouldn't overshadow the debate over health care.

Three Democratic African-American lawmakers - including civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis of Georgia - said demonstrators against the health care bill yelled racist epithets at them as they walked past. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri said a protester spit at him. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, an openly gay Democrat, said protesters yelled anti-gay comments at him.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the incidents "reprehensible" but said on NBC's Meet the Press "let's not let a few isolated incidents get in the way of the fact that millions of Americans are scared to
death, and millions of Americans want no part of this growing size of government."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, appearing on NBC, said, "I think the tone of the this entire debate has been denigrated, has been brought down, frankly, by the rhetoric on government takeover, socialism, things that are not accurate."

"Nobody condones that at all," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R- Virginia. on ABC's "This Week." "There were 30,000 people here in Washington yesterday. And, yes, there were some very awful things said."

Cantor appeared with House Democratic Caucus chairman John Larson, D-Connecticut, who said the incidents show "everybody ought to ratchet back just a little bit."

Asked about Larson's comment, Cantor said "you know what it is time for? It's time to listen to the American people, and that is the stunning thing about this."

On CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, called the slurs "contemptible," saying, "I denounce it in the strongest terms."

Andrew Langer, the president of one of the groups that sponsored Saturday's protest, issued a statement Sunday condemning the incidents. "The Institute for Liberty roundly condemns the isolated incidents of intolerance that occurred … As a core value, the Tea Party movement believes in the precept upon which our independence was declared and this nation was founded: that all men are created equal."

As demonstrators gathered outside the Capitol Sunday to rally against the bill, one held a sign saying, "All tea partiers: If you hear a racial slur, step away, point, boo and take a picture of the rat bastard."

"I haven't seen or heard anything like this in more than 40 years, maybe 45," the 70-year-old Lewis said. "Since the march from Selma to Montgomery really."

"Yeah, but it's OK," Lewis said. "I've faced this before. So, it reminded me of the '60s. There's a lot of downright hate and anger. and people are just being downright mean."

Cleaver released a statement late Saturday saying he, too, was the target of the "n" word as he walked to the Capitol for a vote and that he was spat on by one protester who was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police. Cleaver declined to press charges against the man, the statement said.

"I'm disappointed," Frank said. "There's an unwillingness to be civil."

Frank, who said he rarely hears such slurs anymore, said the health care issue has become "the proxy for a lot of other sentiments. A lot of which are perfectly reasonable but some of which are kind of ugly. ... People out here today on the whole were, many of them, were hateful and abusive."

Updated: 3:15 p.m.

–CNN Radio's Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.

Filed under: GOP • House • John Lewis • Popular Posts
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. John Murphy

    What Americans should be protesting is the Republican backed insurance takeover of health care. Republicans have a stake in maintaining the insurance company bureaucrat wedged between you and your physician. Republicans are pushing to maintain having the insurance company bureaucrat, not your physician, making your medical decisions.

    March 21, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  2. cspurgeon

    Their hate talk and racial undertones are fueling hate in America and they need to cease and start joining in solutions instead of planning Obama Waterloo. What do you think that is if not hate talk...

    March 21, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  3. ItsAMysteryNY

    The Republicans are probably paying these pond scum under the table.

    March 21, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. rep

    Its sad to see writers such as El Kababa who just posted on Sunday at 12:30pm trying to link American Conservatives like they did. In fact both Democrats and "American Conservatives" have people inside both groups who like to stir up problems. Both groups have individuals who want to improve the way we live and also many have there own agendas. The current Health Care bill effects everyone not just those in separate parties. Things in the bill are both good and bad. This is just a stepping block for both parties. The true test now since the bill looks like it will pass, will be in November when they are up for election. Will there be a CHANGE as it has been said in the past or will the american people keep the same elected officials in office. This will be an interesting year for the history books

    March 21, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. cspurgeon

    Shame on the hatemongers.

    March 21, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  6. JP

    The flippant nature with which the republicans "denounce" the racial comments by their supporters is reprehensible. Don't they know (pr care) that the hate speech spewed by the real republican leadership–Limbaugh et al–gives these idots permission to behave this way!

    March 21, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  7. rickster

    i have read the same exact comments claiming this did not happen last night over on the message boards of a certain republican news network.
    it happened and they deny it. par for the course.

    March 21, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  8. SDWalters

    Republicans cannot have it both ways. They cannot push the insurance lobby's fight against healthcare reform by spreading lies and half-truths and by demonizing supporters of reform, while at the same time disavowing any responsibility for the reprehensible epithets used by the ill-informed people they manipulate.

    March 21, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  9. Tom

    the rebulican party is a failure the main talkers are racist tea party and birthers and white supremicy not all are like this but they are at fault for lies and saying gov run gov take over socialism ignorant sayings like that the problem is there are a lot of ignorant people

    March 21, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  10. irishbum04

    But remember, the right is the side that claims it is motivated by Christian morality and personal integrity. Always keep that in mind when they talk so you can be sure to pick out the hypocrisy.

    March 21, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  11. Nurul Aman

    I would blame the tea party movement for this ridiculous anti-American events happening in front of the Capitol Hill in DC during this important health care reform debate for the country. The Tea Party movement is the dangerous organization against America's freedom and prosperity. I hope both Republican and Democratic leaders will understand the outrageous intimidation created negative movement. This movement must be defied and undermined by true patriots of this country, including the leaders of both major political parties. America needs positive agenda such as Healthcare reform, education reform, Wall Street reform to bring the economy to its prosperity and happiness. Please vote for the Healthcare Reform to make a history for a better future of American people.

    March 21, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  12. jim b

    I am not a Republican nor a Democrat. I want smaller government. Does that make me a tea bagger? I guess it does. What I think the people who label themselves as a Democrat or Republican are missing is that this 2073 page bill is not about health care. It is about making the government bigger and even more intrusive into our daily lives. Over the past 10-20 years I have seen the U.S. government get bigger and bigger. Regardless whether we have a Democrat or Republican in the white house. We have a 1 1/4 party system. They both want the same thing. More of our tax dollars. More government. More power for themselves. THAT is what I see this health care bill is about. That is the biggest reason that I will fight to stop it.

    March 21, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  13. sara

    I feel its time that the little boys and girls in Washington should start playing nice.
    What a bunch of bullies – they are creating hatred. Remember folks they are there for us, not them, but I believe they forgot that. But then I don't have any lunch money to give anyone.

    March 21, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  14. Welcome healthcare reform

    It's time for healthcare reform in the USA.
    For those against it. I would say stop being selfish and stop being stroman for the insurance companies and the republican party that are using you.
    Read the bill (that is if you can), otherwise let someone like a first grader read it for you and you will realize that it will help you too.

    March 21, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  15. Bonnie Riddle

    Grandmama was right – if you lie down with dogs, you'll rise up with fleas. The Tea Party-ists react in shock and horror about what happened yesterday. But sorry, kids – you cannot now disavow them. They are your people.
    And the ad agencies are already putting together the ads that will run prior to the November election. Video of your candidates repeating "no" over and over, plus footage from yesterday will be used to tar you all with the same brush. And do you recall who cut the template for that kind of advertising? Uncle Karl Rove and the gang.

    March 21, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  16. Scott

    I'm completely sick and tired of our federal congress and to begin improvement I would back any movement which denounces the entire Republican party of the United States. Real reform will begin when the Republican party is a thing of the past, gone forever.

    March 21, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  17. Just curious

    Could any of these people yelling hate be plants made to discredit opponents of the healthcare reform? Weren't there plants in a crowd at a Hillary rally who held up a sign that said "Iron my shirt" or something like that to discredit her opponents and/or draw sympathy to her?

    March 21, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  18. Daryl

    Forty years from now, the Republicans who are standing up for Private Insurance and the Pharmaceutical companies and hide behind the thugs who yell out the N word, will look just like George Wallace did when he stood in the doorway to block some folks who just wanted to learn – ironic huh? Evil in the 1960's is the same evil we see today. Evil is evil is evil. The ultimate irony is that George Wallace eventually admitted he was wrong and asked for forgiveness. I wonder how many of the folks in favour of people losing their houses because of medical bills will eventually ask for or even receive that forgiveness? The Bible makes note that God isn't exactly a capitalist . . .

    March 21, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  19. El Capitan

    The GOP has been the vehicle used to manipulate a segment of the population into looking after the interest of the wealthiest 2% (ie. Halliburton, KBR, etc.) In order to do this, the GOP had to accept the nationalist fringe, which until now had been kept in line. With Mr. W. Bush, these folks overplayed their hand - it turns out there is such a thing as too much manipulation, and it backfired. The result is that the entire charade has fallen apart, and the crazies that were under wraps before are coming out.

    March 21, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  20. Michael

    There is nothing "isolated" about these incidents. When the only thing that the Tea Party people have in common is seething anger, this is exactly what the future holds in store for the Republican Party.

    March 21, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  21. terry

    typical republican behavior, tea partiers show their true colors

    March 21, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  22. Joe

    Such hypocrites. The Republicans foster an atmosphere of fear and hatred to achieve their political goals, then have the nerve to go public with how "reprehensible" the results of their sleazy tactics have been.
    Have they no shame whatsoever?

    March 21, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  23. Mike S.

    Why are these Republicans denying their base?

    March 21, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  24. Doreen

    First of all, there were not anywhere near 30,000 people in D.C. on the health reform legislation. The 29,800 people were there to demostrate against the wars. And, they were not the ones screaming bigoted statement at the legislators. It was the small group of people there to testify against the health reform bill that did and said these awful things.

    And, if the Republicans were sincere, they would have called a press conference immediately condemning these awful actions. I actually think that, behind closed doors, these Repuplicans make the same kind of statements. I just don't understand how people could vote for these Republicans.

    March 21, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  25. Ted

    Norma – How can you say that all Republican's are in the back pocket of the insurance companies? They haven't given me a dime, but I am totally against ObamaCare based on principle, morals, economics, and likely outcome!

    Let the people speak in November!

    March 21, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
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