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. Republicans are Repugnant Taliban

    What disappointed me most about this is the House Repugliban did not own up to their own complicity in aiding and abetting such behavior in the first place. Your constituents tend to follow suit and the behavior and actions of many of the leaders and mouthpieces of the Repugliban party have been reprehensible at best. If you breed hatred, contempt and bigotry your followers will develop likewise. What more can they expect after the desgusting behavior they have shown on thier own parts. No, the Repugliban need to own up that this is part of thier own doing, by sitting idly back and ignoring it most of the time except when it becomes so predominant as to become disgraceful. They also need to own up to the fact that their own behavior regarding President Obama and all things concerning health care has precipitated this behavior amongst their own constituency, there is nothing they can say to distance themselves form this fact. They owe the American public a deep and sincere apology for being so disgraceful in fulfilling their public duty, anything less is unacceptable.

    March 21, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    And this is the fruit of republican rhetoric.

    March 21, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    I guess that nutcase Jimmy Carter was right.

    Anti-Obama movement has nothing to do with health care or his policies.

    March 21, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  4. Independent

    Extremism is not the way to adress any issue. Shame on the people that used those kind of remarks.. I don't want our children to think is ok. to vent out their frustration by offending others.

    March 21, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. poop

    you know even if there isnt proof its not surprising at all. we saw this kind of thing at Mcains rallies as well. Also People tend to act differently when they perceive that they are anonymous so they say what they wouldnt say normally. Just like racists on the internet. heh

    March 21, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. Agree with El Kababa

    Well put El Kababa. Sadly, the Republi-cants are using hate to spread their message. I've stopped supporting them for this reason.

    March 21, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  7. Bill

    I doubt if there were any racial slurs hurled at all. Cameras rolling everywhere but not one shred of evidence. But don't forget, these Democrats are the same ones who have been playing the race card the past year by claiming that anyone who's against Obama is a racist. No doubt they're trying the same tactic here again.

    March 21, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  8. Jerseymom_68

    I was a registered democrat for years, until I saw the lies being told by the far left. I can not condone these lies and will not be apart of a party that perpetuates such lies. Shame on those you who follow the far left agenda

    March 21, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  9. Mr Joshua

    I am a member of the Tea Party Movement. The overwhelming majority are for small Government and tax cuts. We are correct as the country is broke. Having said that are their racists there? Yes there are. Not many any movement has it's share of this vile nonsense and are condemned by the majority. Just look back at the peace protests. They also had their share. Remember all the vile comments about Secretary Rice?

    We should all condemn Racism. Both sides, As both sides have this element. Sad but true.

    March 21, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  10. John in AZ

    C'mon people, I think we all know that there are extremists in both camps, and these incidents should not be used as evidence of racism in the Republican Party. However, for the party to deny that their rhetoric has only stirred these extremists into a frenzy is ridiculous. When you call a compromise piece of legislation "Armageddon," you are polluting the national discourse. This is not evidence of racism in the GOP, it is evidence of irresponsibility.

    March 21, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  11. steve anton

    Canter and Boehner are jokes. Everytime they say something, I break out in an uproar. They both have plastic faces and you can see the racisim that consumes them. Glad when they both check out.

    March 21, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  12. David

    Not all Republicans are racist, but you can bet all racists vote Republican.

    March 21, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  13. John

    Bigotry and hatred have always been a part of the American way. This president knew coming in that he had his work cut out for him in a society as color and racially concience as the good old USA. No matter how hard this admin tries to do whats right for all the american people the Tea baggers and the GOP will find fault with lies ,deception and misinformation, GOD BLESS AMERICA, lets not let the haters bring us down.

    March 21, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  14. steve

    Aren't you just sick and tired of every Repugnant who opens their mouth? There is nothing good in this world according to them. Nothing but vile remarks, hatred toward others, like they have the answers and no one is listening to them! People are listening and watching and they have decided they don't think you measure up and that is why you got thrown out of office. Don't thing for a minute that people will forget how you have acted. Wait and see. Stonewalling health reform will be remembered forever for what you didn't do for the American people. Who needs representatives that do not represent them?

    March 21, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  15. ChrisInNY

    The republican/neocon/tea bagger protests don't have anything to do with health care. Absolutely zero. They simply cannot stand to see a black democratic president succeed. They know that it will be great for the American People, that's why they have to block it, or President Obama will be that much closer to getting another term. That's the reason behind their desperation, their panic. President Obama will achieve what nobody has been able to achieve for a very very VERY long time – true health care reform that provides coverage for all Americans as well as bring the insurance companies into line. That's what worries them. Everything else they write – all smoke and mirrors. They have to block the President. They have to. They have nothing else left. This is THEIR form of "hope and change".

    March 21, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  16. saneone

    Playing on Fear is as old as Politics itself. When you create an environment of fear and paranoia and direct it at your opponents, you are doing what the Nazi party did in the thirties. Those that fall into that trap and begin to identify certain groups as being THE PROBLEM naturally believe the elimination or subjugation of those groups is the only solution. Republicans travel down that road a lot these days. Their only true base of support are the wealthy and powerful who want to conserve that wealth and power. That is a very small group. In order to expand that base..they play the fear / hate game which, as we have seen. attracts a much wider audience indeed!

    March 21, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  17. justcurious

    It seems as if a lot of "bad" people take cover under the Republican's umbrella... makes you wonder what's attracting them.

    March 21, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  18. Joesnopy

    This supid bill is not a take over by the GOV. That is so so stupid people. All the mone goes to the INS companies. The GOP nuts are tuning in to Glenn Beck. Look at that stupid fool spend how this bill will lead to a GOV take over. Now how in the world can you get another bill passed Beck you Peck. This bill may not pass the Dems have all the vote. GOP people are so stupid.

    March 21, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  19. Jim in Washington

    So Senator Lindsey Graham says the well is poisoned. And Representative Cantor wants me to listen to his friends in the Tea Party. I agree that the Republicans have been pouring poison down the well since 2006 (this time around) and that the Team Party does speak for most Republicans. But my reaction is not the one they want. I want the Democrats in Congerss to stop crapping their pants and stand up to people like Graham, Cantgor and McConnel. I think Obama, Reid and Pelosie have done a good job and the Demorcratci rank and file are cowards. I want the Leadership until we get the reform they promised. And screaming Republicans don't scare me a bit.

    March 21, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  20. Jilli

    The republicans created and fueled this monster – it hangs on their necks like an albatross.

    They can't have it both ways. Many of them spoke a teabag rallies, they were active participants who did nothing to tamp down the vitriol. They knew fully what they were dong. They made this bed, now they have to lay in it.

    March 21, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  21. elyhim

    Is it any wonder that the by-product of using fear as a tactic would continue to be used throughout the organization? Hyped up alerts, weapons of mass destruction, Obama the boogieman, Socialist Congress, it goes on and on and on. The talking points are all about fear, well America has nothing to fear but fear itself. Time to call out liars and idiots who spread the talking points and inflame the fears of the masses.

    March 21, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  22. Chris

    With all the name calling we have here, how can anyone criticize another for name calling. When we call all Republicans racists, all Democrats socialists, we are continuing the name calling. Labeling someone contributes nothing to the argument. There are many good Americans on both sides of this argument and in both the Democrat and Republican parties. Americans do not fall into neat political categories. There are racist Democrats and racist Republicans. Anyone who thinks racism is limited to the Republican Party is mistaken. No party has a monopoly on the mean spirited partisanship and racism.

    March 21, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  23. An American Patriot

    It is true that some conservative individuals have resorted to hate language in the protests over the highly emotional issue of health care reform. It is not merey regrettable, but reprehensible. Yet, it is not merely conservatives who employ such insuting languange. Many, if not most, of the liberals who have commented to this story have used equally hate-filled and defamatory language. Like the individuals uttering racist slurs at yesterday's rally, these liberals have employed stereotypes of conservatives in a manner, which many of them deplore when similar characterizations are mde by those on who don't agree with them. PEOPLE IN GLASS HOUSES SHOULDN'T THROW STONES!

    March 21, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  24. Scott, Tucson

    True Americans just don't want a Marxist president dictating our health care, what obama and the democrats are doing is unconstitutional in mandating that we SHALL have obamacare or be fined or jailed if we choose not to enroll in it.

    If obamacare is not good enough for obama, his family and the rest of the exempt Congress than it's surely not good enough for America.

    March 21, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  25. Nick

    I find it interesting that we have people talking about violence on the part of the Democrats... WHEN did this happen? All I see is intimidation tactics from the far-right (yes, I'm differentiating between most of the GOP and the nutters here, for no other reason than to prove that Democrats DON'T see it in black and white.)

    The problem is the far-right are only slightly left of groups like Al-Qaida in terms of their fundamentalist approach. Glenn Beck, Limbaugh and the Teaparty are awfully close to terrorists, and the GOP should reign them in before they cross the final line.

    As far as healthcare goes – We need reform. NO one except the severely demented, ignorant, or evil would disagree with that statement.

    I am a 29 year old who was just diagnosed with type I diabetes two years ago - I'm not rich, and my health care costs suck, and I am e... This bill doesn't have all the answers for me... BUT it paves the way to something that could save our country and its people. It is the job of the government to safeguard its people, and this is one of the best ways to do it in the modern world – make sure we all lead healthy, productive lives without being destitute or indebted.

    March 21, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
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