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. Charles

    If you're NOT a RACIST...............exactly why ARE you a REPUBLICAN?

    March 21, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  2. T'SAH from Virginia

    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."

    Cantor was responding to this comment made by Larson "everybody ought to ratchet back just a little bit."

    YOU – Cantor – just put your FOOT in your mouth with this statement!!! I was ALMOST ready to say 'apology accepted' until I read this!!! The crowd should be CIVIL and racism still exists – Case and POINT! Once YOU and others believe that – times will get better!!

    March 21, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  3. David

    Does not this tell Americans a lot more of who the Tea Party represents.

    March 21, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  4. carlos

    BRAND people will know who they are, then feed them to the sharks, they most definately will not be missed

    March 21, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  5. W.O. Dixon

    It is reprehensible for both Reps. Boehner and Cantor can find a justification for what happened! Their benign acceptance of the derogatory language, posters, and signs used in this debate has led to this type of situation. I only hope this is the exception and not the rule.....but if this tepid response of Reps. Boehner and Cantor is what we can expect, all politicians should expect this type of "treatment".
    It would be nice to hear from the minority voice in the GOP, but I have not heard a comment from Michael Steele as of yet!

    Obviously, the country has not moved far from Selma and Chicago '68 as most citizens thought!

    March 21, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  6. Seth Zenz

    When you write that Mike Pence "marched with Lewis in Selma," you mean at one of the anniversary marches, right? When I read it, it looked like you were saying he was there in 1965.

    March 21, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  7. Raul Texas

    This is what the TEA party is all about, racism and hate. Why didn't they come out back in 2004 when the president had already spent 100 billion on the war against Iraq. The minute Mr. Obama becomes president these racist people get together and have yet to stop using the "N" word at every rally. Hate and bigotry is what keeps the TEA party active.

    March 21, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Name calling is a sign of ignorance of one who doesn't know how to express himself in an intelligent manner, that's why education is so important. The best way to slap these ignorant people is not giving them any further attention because they stand alone and apart from the intelligent races of people who are black, white, hispanic, asian, etc.

    March 21, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. Ken in PIsgah Forest

    If the Republicans were not so vitriolic, they would not be attacting these kind of lunies to their cause. They need to keep their tone civil. You can be against something without the fear tactics and exaggeration. Just give us the facts and let us form our own opinion.

    March 21, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  10. Truth

    Shame on the Republicans. All they want is to keep the middle class and poor down, and cut the taxes for the riches. They care nothing about this country and its people. How about they live a day without insurance. Look what Bush and 10 years of Republican rule brought to this country- Great recession, two bloody wars, ruined middle class, and packs of lies. They will be defeated. I dare them to take the healthcare away after it becomes law.

    March 21, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  11. gatormom7

    I don't care how you feel about an's never an "excuse" to hurl racial slurs and homophobic sad...we are regressing in America in our treatment of each other. Stick to the issues.

    March 21, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  12. joel palmer

    Cantor is a phony; no self respecting jew can be a republican. he is an Uncle Moshe

    March 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  13. CEE

    That's what happens when a bunch of racists tea baggers get together.

    March 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  14. CR

    It's hardly an isolated incident. Hate, fear, and selfishness underlie Republican/Tea Party strategy for agitating their base. They reap what they sew.

    March 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  15. Brian

    Someone explain to me again that these protests are not racially driven.

    March 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  16. Brian

    What a straw man this is. One or two people out of thousands say something stupid and now national news???

    March 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  17. BabyRayRay

    Well, if you dont want to be called the "N" word dont act like one

    March 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. Doc Gene

    What else are they going to say in public? What I want to see is a complete repudiation of the redneck, angry whaite mob that the tea baggers have become. Shun them GOP.

    March 21, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  19. Tony in Maine

    It's called having your cake and eating it too.

    March 21, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  20. THAT ONE

    Fox news , Sara Plain, Glen Beck, Hannity, Rush all quite on this one – I wonder why ? Can it be that they can see Russia from their backs yard but cannot see hatred from their front yards ?

    March 21, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  21. Robert in Texas

    The republican party has become rotten to the core. The high-paid elite leaders of the GOP are crackpots like Palin and Linbaugh who lead an army of uneducated racist fools who actually believe the lies. The corrupt professional republicans in Washington in Congress are just extensions of big insurance, big oil and big business and depend on the lies to keep themselves in positions of power.

    March 21, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    The republicans are the party of racists and bigots and when the party faithful show up in support of the party line, the leadership discount them as a few isolated incidents.

    The ultimate irony is that by distancing themselves from these comments, the republicans will only lose more followers to the Tea Party movement.

    March 21, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  23. Debbie from AZ

    I agree with Mr. Cantor (I never thought I'd say that), it is time to listen to the American people. PASS THIS HEALTH CARE BILL !!!

    March 21, 2010 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  24. haren

    Tea party is nothing but a racial propaganda machine of Republican party.

    March 21, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  25. Too True For You

    Yeah, the GOP doesn't condone this behavior but openly encourages exactly this kind of ignorant radicalism by using exploitative phrases like "death panel", "armageddon", and prostituting themselves to the paranoid conservative fringe. We saw this at the Palin/McCain rallys, we saw it at the Tea Bagger uprisings, and the GOP does what? It COURTS those idiots.

    Look, no democrat thinks the health care plan solves all the issues, or even a lot of them, but the vast majority of Americans realize that it is step in the right direction. The republican't Party of "No" is just upset that their long standing philosophy of stalling, doing nothing, status quo is being challenged. They didn't have the political guts to do anything and are ashamed that the democrats have the backbone they so obviously lack.

    March 21, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
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